A Game Built for Two and Sometimes More

An introduction to game mechanics and types of games for new gamers as well as reviews of multiplayer games that work well with two!

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Adventures in starting a Middle School Board Game Club

Kristen McCarty
United States
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While this is the third year I have run a club at my school, all of my older students have become too involved in other activities and have a difficult time making it to the club. I started the year with a new bunch of students who are a lot younger, have little gaming experience and very short attention spans.

We had six students in attendance, and they all wanted to start by playing a game together, and they wanted to play Life. Not wanting to discourage them I helped them set up and asked if they knew how to play. Most assured me that they had played many times, but we had two ESL students who were new to the game. Because of this, and sensing that they maybe didn't know as much as they professed, I told them to play without stocks for the first game. I removed those cards from the deck and placed them in the games lid away from the players. The blank stars should have been my first clue, but I let them proceed and stepped away to help a student from one of my classes with a question on her homework.

The group seemed to be doing okay and quickly started to argue over the merits of going to college versus starting a career and how they would never want to marry someone. I noticed they were playing some minor rules wrong, for example, they only gave the college graduates one choice of a career, but was hesitant to step in and help. That was until they got to buying a house and I heard one student loudly proclaim, "Alright so now, I bought the ten house and whenever you land on that number you have to pay me $10,000." I was very confused and came over to see what was happening. Somehow she had taken a stock card as her house and merged Monopoly and Life together. She thought she now owned 10 and everyone who landed? on it had to pay her. I explained how the houses worked, took back and hid the stock cards, and tried to keep my laughter to myself. The players didn't seem phased and continued to play until they lost interest about five minutes later.

We went on to play Rhino Hero, Checkers, and Card Line Animals. They kept me on my toes and have me trying to come up with quick games that are easy to learn and fun to play. They also can't be longer than about 10 minutes, so this may be a challenging group to keep entertained. I'll keep working one introducing longer and longer games and maybe I'll get them to play King of Tokyo by Christmas.

Oh, and remind me to tell you about the Magic game where one player somehow turned all his opponents land cards to another type, even though it said to change a creature. I think I'm going to have my hands full this year, but at least I'll have good stories to tell!
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Wed Sep 28, 2016 3:26 am
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Origins 2016 – Where Gaming Begins – Friday

Kristen McCarty
United States
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Our second day at Origins was full of interviews and demos. We were able to meet a lot of people to discuss their companies, new and upcoming games, gaming accessories, Kickstarters, and company history.


We started at the HABA booth and spoke with Lea Culliton, President of HABA USA. HABA USA is known for their children’s toys and games and is probably most famous for their wooden products. Last year was HABA’s first year at Origins and Lea said she had learned a lot, thus making her second Origins better than the first. HABA is one of the only children’s game companies, so it is a big draw for families that come to the Con. Lea was able to get a bigger booth and have gaming space at her booth. She even had an adorable children’s table so the kids could play at their level.

Lea and HABA were having a busy show and a busy year. Lea let us know that they had launched 19 new games at the Spring Toy Fair, and they showed another 14 new games at ASTRA Marketplace. She has had a hard time keeping some of the games in stock. Some of the newest games at the Con were Space Planets, Silly Shenanigans, Ugah Ugah, Sleepy Castles, Rox, Mix & Match Robbers, and more. Of course, the old favorites such as Animal Upon Animal and Dancing Eggs could be found at the booth.

Space Planets
is a game for two to four players where you roll a die and hope to land on a planet. Players want to explore outer space and explore new planets, but they need to have enough fuel crystals to reach their goal. If you can land the die on a planet and you have enough fuel crystals, you can explore and take the planet. If you do not have enough crystals to explore the planet, you instead take the number of fuel crystals shown on the die. Some planets give a player specials such as extra fuel crystals, or they may be able to roll the die again. The person with the most explored planets at end of the game wins. The artwork and dexterity element will make this game appealing to a lot of families.

Ugah Ugah is another dice game, but without the dexterity element of Space Planets. The two stone age hunters, Bone Breaker and Mammoth Masher, are searching the wilderness for food, and the players are trying to help them search. At the start of their turn players roll the five dice and need to set aside any that show bones. The player rolls the dice and chooses a symbol to place in the middle; then they reroll the dice, pick another symbol or the same symbol, and continue doing so until all dice are set in the middle or bone dice are set aside. If the player rolls at least three spoils symbols, such as the ham bone, they may take the spoils card from the middle or another players. Bone Breaker or Mammoth Masher dice let the player move the figures. The player moves the figure and takes the path chip on which the figure ends. The game ends immediately after the turn on which the hunters meet up or pass each other. Players then add up their points from their spoils and path cards (minus the points from the smelly caterpillars) and the player with the most points wins the game.

This year HABA also started making family games for older children and adults. Their first game was Adventure Land, a strategy game by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. The second game has the distinction of being nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres, the German board game of the year. Karuba is a tile-laying game where players race to get their explores to temples to win points. They can also collect points from items on the paths they create. Lea was pleased that both games were doing so well and excited to work with such acclaimed designers. I wish all involved the best of luck.

Lea also told us that she has some exciting things happening at Gen Con, the next big board gaming convention of the summer. HABA’s lead designer at HABA Germany Games Division, Markus Nikisch,will be presenting several prototypes of upcoming family games. It is a chance for HABA fans to play and learn about the design and development of HABA games. The prototypes should be released at Essen 2016.

Cryptozoic Games

Cryptozoic is known for publishing licensed board, card games, trading games as well as some Original Games. Fans of the DC Comics™ Deck-Building Game, The Big Bang Theory: The Party Game, or the Ghostbusters™:The Board Game or Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game will be familiar with Cryptozoic. Cryptozoic was in the Main Gaming Hall and they had a large demo area that was rarely empty.

Ryan was excited to tell us about all of his Origins releases and upcoming releases. They had a few products that were available in limited quantities and had sold out each day. One of the was the Rick and Morty Total Recall Card Game based upon one episode of the popular Adult Swin show Rick and Morty. It is a cooperative deductive game that plays in about 15-20 minutes. Players must figure out which of the characters are the real family members and who are masquerading alien parasites. It looked like hilarious fun, and it should be a big hit of fans of the show.

Anther Rick and Morty game that is coming soon is Mr. Meeseeks Box ‘o Fun: Game of Dice and Dares, based off another popular episode of the show. Players draw Request Cards and roll their dice to see if they can complete the request. If the player in unsuccessful they must press the button on the box and summon Mr. Meeseeks to help, who wants to help so he can no longer exist. But the trouble with Mr. Meeseeks is that if he can’t complete your request, other Meeseeks will be summoned and could become violent. The player who scores the required number of points from requests or dares wins the game.

Internal Affairs
was another game available for pre-release at Origins. It is a team based deduction game for 2-8 players that will be widely available in July or August. The game taking place in Hong Kong where both the police and the Triad crime syndicate have traitors in their organization, and it’s hard to know who is loyal to whom. Players may even change their loyalty during the game. Until the very end of the game, you won’t know who is on your team, so players need to be on their toes the whole game.

Mad Science Foundation, another anticipated pre-release. It is a resource drafting game in which players are hoping to create mad (or is it misunderstood) scientist inventions. You might be collecting lasers and sharks after all. During a round one player controls the Crooked Directors, and they chose how to separate the commodities, and all piles may not be equal. Players then take turns selecting the pile they want, and Crooked Director selects last. Players need the resources and minions to complete their plans and save or is it steal the world?

Cryptozoic has a lot planned for future releases as well. Poker Assault that comes with four custom poker decks that can be played as regular poker cards or as the custom game, Epic Spell Wars should see some more editions as well. They are also working on a miniatures board game of Mechs that looks exciting.

Broken Token

Finding a good way a organize and store board games has lead to a lot of creativity and even new business. About two years ago Greg Spense started making accessories and inserts for his games and was encouraged to set up a web store as many others asked to buy his designs. From this experience, he created the company The Broken Token. The Broken Token offers gaming accessories, storage solutions, box organizers, acrylic gaming pieces and more. Greg has seen a lot of growth with his company over the past two years. He now has about 24 employees, ten laser cutters, and is in his second building. He enjoys the growth and popularity of his company, but his is also determined not to grow too fast.

The Broken Token uses 1/8 inch Baltic Birch that is both durable and light weight. It can also easily to stain for someone who wishes to upgrade their kits. The products are cut using precise laser cutters which leave a darker edge. To me, this adds to the aesthetics of the wood. The Broken Token has storage solutions for many games including Machi Koro, Castle Panic, Imperial Settlers, Blood Rage, King of Tokyo, and Race for the Galaxy. If there is no solution for your favorite game, go to online poll and vote. They are adding more and more to their products all the time.

The Craftsmen Series offers gamers an opportunity to store their games in style. These solutions may be a higher in price than the inserts, but they are worth the price to many. This series offers a way for players to store all the expansions for their favorite games in one box. For Firefly Fans, the Big Dam Crate comes in two varieties, one you will need to assemble yourself or the upgraded, stained and beautiful Mighty Find Edition. Greg was surprised by the response and amount fans were willing to pay for the box and was happy that he could offer not only a storage solution but a way to organize and set up the game quickly and easily. Other titles available in the Craftsmen Series are Deepwater Game Storage for Lords of Waterdeep and Biohazard Containment Unit for Pandemic.

The Broken Token storage solutions offer not only a way to organize your game but a way to enhance the gameplay. They spend a lot of time playing the game to really understand the rules, what needs to be on the table during game play even before they start to design the storage solution. Once the process begins they spend a lot of type in the prototype phase, testing the design and making sure it is the best for their customers. You are not just getting storage for the game, but pieces that enhance the game play. For example, a place to keep tokens during the game, a stand that lets you draw and discard cards, and player bins that contain all the player pieces someone needs for the game.

This dedication and commitment to customer service can be seen in the Blood Rage solution. Greg said this was perhaps the most difficult game to design a storage solution for. He listened to his customers who wanted a way to store their painted minis and designed boxes that held all the minis so they would not touch and could be easily placed in and taken out of the box. It also holds all the game contents, expansions, and Kickstarter exclusives.

Greg wants his fans to enjoy the process of putting together their kits. He does this by being sure the make them as easy to put together as possible. Key pieces are made in a way so they can only fit a certain way. If something were to go wrong, customers could also contact the Broken Token for help or replacement pieces.


Betabotz is a unique game returnign soon to Kickstarter. There are both cooperative and competitive elements of the game, but in the end, there will be only one winner. During the first round of the game, players bid on robots. After the first round, they take these robots and bid on upgrades, take powerful code cards and try to accomplish each of the ten missions. A robot may be able to accomplish a mission alone, or they may need to team up with other players. Just when you think you have enough to accomplish the mission, another player may play a code card making it impossible. The missions are tiered and get harder each round.

If you can complete a mission, you gain more bitz or money. If you needed the help of another player, you will need to negotiate the reward. Smart negotiation, thoughtful bids, and wise use of code cards is required to win the game and make it to Robotopia. After the tenth mission, the player with the most gold components and code cards gets an additional bitz reward. The player with the most bitz wins the game.

The game was easy to learn and played fast with all the wheeling and dealing. Because of the simultaneous nature of the bids and mission, there is very little downtime and a lot of player interaction. The gameplay was solid and thoughtful. Fans of negotiation and bidding games will enjoy this game.

It was a lot of fun to play with Gar Au and learn about the passion and dedication he and his team are putting into this game. We were introduced the game’s artist Tina Bongorno, who was in attendance at the Con. Her illustrations are beautiful and make the game come to life. I had admired her artwork at Origins last year and was excited to find out she was the artist for BetaBotz.

Rock Manor Games – Brass Empire

From a game coming to Kickstarter to one that was part of a successful Kickstarter, we turn to Brass Empire. Brass Empire is a deck building game that is set apart from other deck builders because of its mechanisms. Each player starts with a different cooperate faction with unique cards. You don’t start with these cards and must buy them throughout the game. Each company has a different feel and play style and gives each player a starting strategy based on that company. Another unique aspect of Brass Empire are the two rows of cards. The top row is the labor market, and it is where you will find employees. These work for your company and generate resources. The bottom row has all the permanent structures and steam-powered contraptions; these help defend the company.

Mike told us that he developed the game because of he and his wife’s love of deck builders. As they played, they found they desired more player interaction, as it is missing from most deck builders. He designed Brass Empire to not be multi-player solitaire. Players can attack other players to stop their units and buildings from gathering resources or attacking. Players need to pay attention to what other players strategy may be so they can counter it. The gameplay was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed having a different corporation and strategy from everyone else. The artwork is beautiful, and the steampunk theme is subtle.

We really enjoyed the demo of Brass Empire, and we hope to pick this game up soon. It is available for pre-order now on the Rock Manor Games website and should be released by Gen Con.

The Networks

The Networks, designed by Gil Hova, is another Kickstarter success in which players are TV Network executives vying for the most viewers. Players start with three terrible shows, a low rate star, and a horrible ad. They must build up their station to get the most viewers before the end of the 5th season. Players must develop more popular shows, attract legendary stars, and pick the best ads. This it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Shows want to air at certain times and won’t attract as many viewers when not at the right time slot. Stars are picky and want to work on certain genres of shows. Ads, like shows, want to air at certain times. Players must balance the needs and conditions of all three to get the most viewership. Players must also remember that the shows will age after the first season, and lose viewership and players may cancel and send a show to re-runs. Luckily you can still get viewers from reruns.

The Networks is full of humor, fun, and strategy and plays with 1-5 players. It was available in limited quantities at Origins and Gil noted that it will need a second print run, but it may be a bit before that happens. Judging from the packed booth for demoing, the many copies in the hands of attendees, and all the positive feedback I heard, we think the game was a hit.


At last year’s Origns, we had learned about the miniatures game The Withcborn from Cory Kammer. If you want to learn more about check out my Origins overview from 2015. This year we wanted to catch up with Cory and see what was new. Cory let us know that the new 2.0 rules are available and address many of the concerns and questions players had over the last year. One of the main changes to the game is how you create your war clan. A player now starts with 125 points, not 100 points and they must spend at least 35+ points on equipment. This way they can be sure their warriors have a better chance of survival. You can go to the Witchborn Channel on YouTube to learn all about the rules changes.

More adventures have also be released including Asylum and Dragon Moon. Cory described Dragon Moon as a starter adventure that is less dark, and more humorous than the previous adventures. The fourth adventure, The Wailing Citadel, will be coming out sometime this summer. This particular adventure is for more advanced players.

Sometime after Gen Con Cory plans on having a Kickstarter that will include miniatures for the game and more adventures.

Breaking Games

Breaking Games is newer and a bit different from other board game companies. According to Breaking Games, they are unique because “we promote the game and the designer above the company because they are the stars.” Breaking Games encourages their game designers to attend conventions and events to demo and explain their game. We were able to meet the designer of The Game of 49, Mark Corsey. He taught us the game and shared his joy of demoing the game at Origins. In The Game of 49, players start with $49 dollars to bid on spaces on a grid of 49 numbers. Numbers are drawn randomly and auctioned one at a time. The highest bidder can place their chip on the number. During the game, a Wild /Payoff card gives player seven dollars for each chip. The player who wins the bid also has a choice of where they want to place the chip. Players want to claim four numbers in a row, in any direction to win the game. Mark told us a story of a young girl who brought her mother to play the game; the girl was able to win, but the mother was happy when her daughter had to do some math when they auctioned Wild / Payoff card. Don’t be surprised to see The Game of 49 in your local Target as well.

Peter Vaughn, the “Game Development Tycoon,” of Breaking games showed us 4 the Birds by Steve Ewoldt. 4 the birds is similar to The Game of 49 in that you are trying to get four of your birds in a connected row, or four in a square. On your turn your roll two dice that indicate coordinates on the board. Players then choose on which of the possible two spots to place their bird. For example, if you roll a 3 and a 4 you can place your bird on either 34 or 43. Players may also play action cards that allow them to move their birds, re-roll or even move the crows and hawks. Crows block spaces, while hawks scare all birds away form the surrounding spaces. For a light dice-rolling game there is a lot of strategy and decision making, and the birds are adorable.

Letter Tycoon is another game we have been looking at for a long time, but it wasn’t always easy to obtain. In Letter Tycoon, players form words using letters from their seven card hand and the three cards that are part of the community pool. Using the word they just formed, players score money and stock rewards. They can also buy a one letter “patent” in the word they made, these patents earn players money from the bank whenever someone uses the letter later in the game. Less common letters give the player special abilities. At the end of the game, players score their money, stock, and letter patents to see who has the most money to win the game.

Breaking Games also had some lighthearted games such as Poop in a Bag. Poop is a card game all about potty humor and similar to UNO. Players are trying to be the first to run out of cards, and they take turns pooping while trying not to clog the toilet. You can buy an edition of the game that comes in a brown bag labeled Poop. They put the shipping label right on the bag and send it to someone’s doorstep!

Naturalist Games

Timing is everything and it seems timing was right for Naturalist Games and their latest Kickstarter. The Kickstarter for Lairs started during the Con and the game is close to it funding goal with about 24 days left. Lairs is a two to five player in which players take on the role of powerful creatures building their home in the mountain. The creatures each have a history and unique abilities. Building lairs toward the center of the mountain is the first part of the game. There are four different types of building tiles. The lairs are built from cards in hand, but players must be careful because those same cards are needed for the second half of the game. The first creature to reach the center of the mountain claims one of the Legacies (powerful artifacts, ancient sorceries, or riches). The Legacy grants the player new powers and control of the mountain, and makes them the enemy of all the other players. The other players now band together against the one who has claimed the legacy using spells, tricks and treasures to defeat the other player. The Legacy player has their special ability and encounters they can use to defend their lair. Each layer has one of three types of encounters the other players must overcome. The last encounter depends on the Legacy and the game will come down to one last battle to decide the winner and fate of the mountain.

Lairs is the primary focus of Naturalist Games this summer so fans will have their attention. There are also some planned stretch goals such as laser etched wooden pieces and Kickstarter exclusive content. They have previous Kickstarter experience including their game Release! and a few others. They know how to make their backers feel confident in the product and plan on being responsive to their backers with updates, answers to comments and responding to feedback. Pat wanted to let his supporters know that they appreciate them and thank them for backing, sharing and supporting Naturalist Games and the Lairs Kickstarter.

Besides Lairs, Game election and Costume Party are two current products Naturalist Games has available. Costume Party is a bluffing memory game in which players want to score points for their silly costume. Each costume is unique in how it scores or takes away points. An expansion of additional costumes is planned for early next year. Game Election is less of a game and more of a way to make the choosing of the next game into to more competitive activity. An expansion that doubles the player count is expected for next year.

Trekking the National Parks

Trekking the National Parks
is another game that is a labor of love for its designers, the Bink family. They enjoyed visiting and hiking in the national parks and have a goal to visit each one in the United States. Because of their love of these parks, they wanted to create a family game that incorporated this idea and used their photography, design, and artist skills to make it happen. The result is a fun, educational, and competitive family game. Players race to the different national parks, trying to be the first to visit a park to collect its colored stone, players also want to collect trekking cards to obtain the park cards. The person with the most gems of one color also gains a bonus. The player with the most points wins the game.

Trekking the National Parks
is beautiful, and the components are fantastic. The simple rule set, but deeper strategy makes it a great family level game that can be played with both experienced gamers and new gamers alike. It has been getting a lot of praise for the production and gameplay and it’s on the top of our list to play.


Though our time was short at Origins this year, it was packed full, and we had a great time. I am thankful to all the designers and publishers who took the time to speak with us. I hope that Origins was a success for everyone. The Vendor Hall was packed full of old favorites and new ones to discover. Remember not to walk by that small booth, because there might be a great game there. We did miss a few that that were missing like Chessex Dice and Geek Chic. Still, there were plenty of gaming accessories to peruse. Wrymwood Gaming were present with this beautiful and exotic wooden dice towers, trays, and deck boxes. There were other insert companies like the Broken Token offering ingenious storage solutions. And other dice companies such as Gamescience Dice.

The Main Gaming Hall offered after hours gameplay and retail space and is growing each year. It was great to be able to visit the Main Gaming Hall before the Vendor Hall opened and after it closed. The hours fly by at Origins so that extra time is very useful when you want to get that last demo in before deciding if you want to buy a game or not.

If you tire of demoing or shopping, there are plenty of tournaments and events to keep you busy. Origins University lets you listen to authors, artists, and game designers. The Sunday family pass, admits two adults and four individuals under 18 and is a great way for family to experience and enjoy the show together. Families may also want to try out the family room with its many family games and even electronic games available for play.

The city of Columbus is a great setting for the Con. Venturing out of the convention center, the people are kind, helpful, and supportive of the convention. Spend some time getting to know the city and visiting the near by restaurants, shops, and parks. Origins is a busy, but relaxed convention that is as exciting for new gamers as the veterans. Every year we attend we enjoy ourselves, and every year brings something new. We just unpacked but I’m already looking forward to Origins 2017.

Photo Credits: Mike Gnade, Patrick Roach (Patrickwroachm) - all others were taken by my husband Michael
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Thu Jun 23, 2016 1:50 pm
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Origins 2016 - Thursday

Kristen McCarty
United States
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Once again, June rolls around, and it is time for our annual trip to Columbus, Ohio and the Origins Game Fair. Every year we look forward to returning to this beautiful city and fantastic convention to play games, connect with friends and learn more about what is happening in the board gaming world. Origins Game Fair, organized by GAMA (Game Manufacturers Association), runs five days, Wednesday through Sunday. While we focused on Board and card games in the dealer halls, there is a convention center full of events, lectures, and award ceremonies to experience. Attendees can try their hand at Role Playing Games, LARPS, Miniatures Gaming, seminars, costume contests, family activities, tournaments and more.

Many of the longest lines we saw this year were at the tournament areas. Origins reported that they had over 5,500 events, with the tournaments accounting for many of those events. Many companies including Wiz Kids, IELLO, Fantasy Flight Games, Mayfair, Konami, Bushiroad, and Catalyst held world championships, national, and regional tournaments. Magic the Gathering and Upper Deck also held tournaments with generous cash prizes.

Origins gives gamers a chance to meet and game together, talk to their favorite publishers and designers, try out the newest and latest, and connect with new friends and old. For many this is the start of the summer convention season.

his year was the first time we were at the convention on a Thursday, and I had assumed that would mean there would be fewer people. After registration, I was surprised to learn that over 6,000 had registered on Wednesday which is technically the first day of the convention but is more about giving vendors and organizers time to set up and get ready for the convention as the main Exhibit Hall doesn’t open until Thursday. Because so many had registered, we had missed out on the coupon book. Only 4,000 had been printed. This was very disappointing because dealers only give discounts and promos with these coupons. Some of the volunteers told us they hoped to have more printed and to come back, but even after a few trips there were no coupon books. Other than this hiccup the registration process was quick and easy because we had pre-registered and were sent an e-mail with a scan code. We printed this out prior to our trip, scanned it upon arrival and our badges quickly printed out and we were sent on our way. This helped quicken up the registration process and get people through the lines and into gaming faster than ever. I highly recommend preregistering if possible, it will help you get through the paper work process faster so you can get to the fun.

Despite the disappointment of the coupon book, everything else seemed bigger and better this year. The event book was huge, and the Site Book was noticeably better quality than in years past. The main Exhibit Hall was sold out according to Origins. Here you can find most of the vendors booths as well as the Art Expo and Origins Award nominees. Hall D, or the Main Gaming Hall, was fuller than I have ever seen it. The Main Gaming Hall is also open after other areas of the convention close. In Hall D or the Main Gaming Hall vendors have a demo and retail space, tournaments such as HeroClix or Magic or were run, there is a Paint and Take section, and miniatures games have beautiful set-ups. Throughout the convention center other rooms are filled with role-playing games, family games, and even lectures.

Attendance numbers, according to Origins, were 52,561 which was higher than the last few previous years.

Thursday June 16, 2016

Walking through the convention center on early Thursday morning one could quickly tell something different was going on in the building. There were a lot of people carrying games and looking excited to be there, even early in the morning. The Main Gaming Hall was the place to be before 10:00. There was already a long line of people at some tournaments, and other booths were set up or being set up, and it was fun to be able to get right into gaming. We walked around checking out the games and dealers in the Main Gaming Hall. Many dealers had booths in both halls while some companies like AEG were exclusively in the Main Gaming Hall.

As with every Origins, we were amazed at how quickly time goes and it was soon time to get ready to go to the vendor hall. We were hoping to be one of the lucky 50 people to get a deluxe copy or Orleans. As soon as the door opened for the Main Exhibit Hall, there was a mad dash for the TMG booth and their two hot games Orleans Deluxe and Guilds of London. This was the first time I experienced this at Origins, but we were lucky enough to get a copy. As soon as we paid we got out of the way, so I have no idea how long the copies lasted. My guess is, from the crowd, that it wasn’t long and a few people probably left disappointed.

Thursday was our day to demo games and explore this year’s convention. We usually like to take a walk around the Exhibit Hall first to get an idea of where everyone is and what everyone has to offer.


Our first demo of the day was at the Stronghold Booth. I was interested in trying out Animals on Board. In Animals on Board, you are trying to collect groups of 1 to 3 or more animals. At the end of the game, you will lose any animals you only have a pair of (Noah takes them!). During a players turn they must either split a group of animals in the center common area into two groups or pay for and take a group of animals from the same center group into their own hand. It was a very cute family game, and I enjoyed the collection and splitting mechanics, but I don’t think it would be great with two players. We also demoed Bear Valley, a game where players are exploring a river valley and trying to survive moving from their base camp to the end goal. You do this by choosing one of the paths adjacent to the card you are on followed by drawing a card and placing it in the aforementioned spot. There is a push your luck element that comes if you continue to draw cards as all cards have a certain number of exits on them and if this equals number the current time of day (equal to the number of cards already drawn) you are lost and can’t move at all. Later in the day, a bear may also come out and eat you so be careful! Bear Valley was another fun game that is worth a look. Stronghold Games also had Piratoons, Stellar Conflict, Village and its two expansions: Village Port and Village Inn as well as the stand alone game My Village.


After some time in the Vendor Hall we went to the Main Gaming Hall to demo some games, starting with AEG. We played Valley of the Kings because the designer, Tom Cleaver, asked us to come over for a demo. Valley of the Kings is a deck building game that is also a deck Destruction Game. You are buying cards to build up your deck, but to score any points for those cards, you must entomb them and take them out of your deck. Because as Tom said, “You can take it with you in Ancient Egypt.” It was a unique twist on familiar deck builders and an excellent opportunity to learn it from the designer. We also wanted to try to demo Mystic Vale the card building game, but the tables were full and to play you needed to pay a generic ticket. As far as I know, AEG was the only company requiring tickets to demo games, and I was not for this idea at all. I do understand wanting to be sure to get a demo of a hot game, but I am hesitant to pay for a demo when I can go to another booth and play for free.

Battlefront Miniatures / Gale Force Nine, LLC

At Battlefront Miniatures/Gale Force Nine, LLC, we demoed the game Tanks: Panther Vs. Sherman. Tanks is small scale as you are usually only playing with one or two tanks, and you are trying to destroy your opponents tanks to win. It plays in about half an hour. Three tanks come with the game and there are lots of tank cards for other tank types allowing players to use their own miniatures or buy extras from the Battlefront.

The game also includes upgrade cards that can be added to the tanks as well, making the game incredibly flexible. It was easy to learn, and I enjoyed playing, even though my husband thoroughly destroyed my Panther. Anyone who has miniature tanks, Flames of War tanks or an interest in tank battles should look into Tanks. Those who love miniatures games will enjoy how easy it is to play the game. If you aren’t sure about miniatures games, the rules for this game are straightforward and easy to remember.

Cool Mini or Not

While in the Main Gaming Hall we went to the Cool Mini or Not booth. Cool Mini had a booth in both halls, but the demo area was in the Main Gaming Hall. Both booths were large, but their demo area was one of the largest at the show, and they had many many games out to demo. Their tables were usually full whenever we walked by the booth. We checked out the new Krosmaster 2.0 and Krosmaster Quest. We have a plethora of Krosmaster minis and were excited about Krosmaster Quest. After hearing a brief overview, it didn’t look like it would work well with two so it was a pass for us. The game sounds fantastic, though, and anyone who plays Krosmaster with over two players should check it out.

We sat down for a group demo of Zombicide: Black Plague, which for anyone who knows us may sound weird because we not fans of zombie games. But the medieval black plague theme and impressive components made us want to try the game. The demo had already started when we sat down, but the demonstrator was helpful and gave a brief overview while the others took their turns so by the time it came to our turn we knew how to play.

It was a lot of fun to play even with a large group we didn’t know. I kept finding crossbows for some reason when I searched, but working together we were able to overcome the zombie horde and find our way out to win the game. The simple game play, fun mechanics and humor of the game sold it for us, and we picked it up at the con. The benefit of buying games from Cool Mini or Not at a con is that you get a chance to obtain limited edition promos. We were able to pick up some promo heroes that look a bit like some Monty Python knights and a few heroes for my favorite Cool Mini or Not game, Arcadia Quest.

Osprey Games

Our first interview of Origins was with Osprey Games and Christian Waters. Osprey may be better known as a publisher of historical fact books, but in the last few years that have expanded into board games bringing with them their book publishing experience which is shown in the design of their boxes and the beautiful artwork. As a history teacher I appreciate the research and artwork that goes into these books.

One of their games is Frostgrave, a miniatures rule set that allows players to use any miniatures they may have. It is also a miniatures game suitable for new players. It is set in the frozen ruins of an ancient city where powerful wizards battle side by side with mercenaries and war clans. Christian let us know about the upcoming and recent releases for Frostgrave. Into the Breeding Pits is a paperback with a setting that takes players into the catacombs, sewers, and dungeons under the city. Tales of the Frozen City is a collection of eleven short stories from Frostgrave. Fans of Frostgrave have a lot of things to keep them happy and playing. We even saw some beautiful set-ups for Frostgrave in the miniatures section of Hall D.

Christian also walked us through the games he had available at the convention. Odin’s Ravens is a classic two player race game that many had wanted to have republished in the past. When a Kickstarter project about a year ago failed to deliver, Osprey stepped in and fulfilled the Kickstarter orders, which they didn’t have to do at all. Now this classic game has been updated with beautiful artwork. Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is a hidden role game where the humans are trying to escape from their damaged spaceship while human-eating aliens are trying to catch them. It is described as a tense but exciting game to play. The simple design is very appealing, and I saw a lot of people drawn in by the art alone. Another two player game we discussed was The Ravens of Thri Sahashri, a game in which one player is Ren, who has lost her memory, and the other a detective trying to repair it. Both players work together through the game with a twist; no talking is allowed. The heaviest game we discussed was They Come Unseen. It is a hidden movement game where one player controls submarines while the other controls a surface fleet trying to destroy the submarines. It is not a light game and was designed by a retired Royal Navy Officer and Submarine Commander.

Underbite Games - Super Dungeon Tactics

Our second interview was not for a board game company at all. Instead, it was for an upcoming video game Super Dungeon Tactics. The name may help you to make sense of why a video game was demoed at a board game convention. Super Dungeon Tactics is a video game implementation of the board game Super Dungeon Explore. Fans of Super Dungeon Explore will instantly recognize the game. The graphics are true to the look and feel of the board game, and the 3-D world adds depth and beauty to the world of Crystalia.

Underbite Games has been working developing this tactical turn-based combat game that keeps the fun of the board game while enhancing it with a more vivid world. Cory Heald and Brian Lenz spent a lot of time going though the demo and telling us about the game.

Super Dungeon Tactics will be available on Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux. It can be played using either a controller or mouse and keyboard. Super Dungeon Tactics has a linear campaign with about 30 levels and plenty of side quests. Each hero in a guild brings in unique abilities to the dice, and these change as you equip your heroes with different armor and spells. The equipment and abilities of the heroes change the structure of the dice as well. The dice are assigned to characters to heal, add defense, enhance combat, or allow for special moves. Gameplay is turn based, and a hero may move and attack or attack and then move on their turn. Monsters will attack the hero with the most aggro or the first hero they can reach (it depends on the enemy’s AI). The players die roll can also trigger monster abilities.

I found the gameplay fun and intuitive, and I think it could be pretty addicting to build up your heroes and fight the dark forces. The game should be out sometime in Q3 with a price point of $19.99, which is pretty hard to beat. The game will appeal to fans of the board game and anyone who enjoys turn based combat games.

Lost Battalion Games

After the Exhibit Hall closed we were able back to go to Main Gaming Hall, which was stays open until 8:00pm. We stopped by to see our friends Jeff and Debbie at Lost Battalion Games. Lost Battalion is one of my favorite companies because of the kindness and passion of the owners.

Jeff took the time to have us demo the upcoming Hell on Wheels expansion for both Sergeants Miniatures Game and Sergeants D-Day. These expansions add vehicle models to the game, which are all sold separately allowing players to use their own tank miniatures or to purchase miniatures specifically for the game. The expansions include a vehicle panel, markers for ammunition and damage, equipment and mission cards, and scenarios.

We played a three-player scenario where I played the German Panther and my husband, and Jeff controlled a large squad of Red Devils. My mission was to make it off the map alive, and their mission was to keep me from getting off the map. The vehicles added another level of difficulty to the game, but it is a level of difficulty I know most fans will be willing to accept so they can get vehicles into the game. The odds were not in my favor as the scenario was designed to make the tank loose.

At first, it looked like I would have it easy when I fired at a house and killed one of Jeff’s men hiding inside. I was feeling pretty good until they started hitting me with the Piat, at which point I had to make about 11 damage checks. At the end of the checks, two of my crew were dead, and the tank was on fire. The good thing was I was only one move away from the exit. Jeff made one mad a dash with his squad and mounted my tank with two of his men. They fought bravely and killed my commander leaving me with only three cards for my last turn. I only needed one move to win the game, and there it was, the second card of the round. I was on fire and probably ready to blow up, but I made it off the map to win the scenario and had taken revenge from earlier in the day in the Tanks game.

I would also like to congratulate Lost Battalion and Becky Siebe for winning the Origins Award for Best Gaming Accessory with their terrain tiles.

Our first Thursday was a full and exciting day. Friday would bring more interviews and, of course, more gameplay.
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Tue Jun 21, 2016 1:07 pm
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A Game Built for Two: 2015 Gift Guide

Kristen McCarty
United States
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Welcome to 2015 edition of my annual holiday board game gift guide. In this guide, I hope to give you a great mix of games, which are simple to learn and a blast to play. This year I have four game categories ranging from family games to more advanced "gamer's games".

Many of these games won't be at your big box stores, though Target and Barnes and Noble do offer a good selection. If you can't find the game, try Amazon or another online game store. Of course your friendly local game store is a great place to look... shop local!

I am also not including the same games I put on previous year's list as I didn't want any repeats. Those games are still great and are some of my first recommendations. So look back at the previous lists for even more great ideas!

Family Games

Games in this category are family friendly in rules, length, and theme. Children below seven may need a partner to help them. The themes have a wide appeal, and the rules are easy to learn.

1. Timeline Challenge

Timeline Challenge takes a games series I love, Timeline, and adds five new ways to play, creating an amazingly fun and educational game that is perfect for families. Instead of just doing the traditional timeline, now you have four different types of challenges. These include guessing the exact date of one card, guessing how many years apart two events occurred, and betting on which era one event occurred. The best part is that you can use any game from the Timeline Series. If you already love timeline, this is a must buy. If you don't, it's a great place to start. Timeline Challenge is a great gift for anyone who loves trivia, guessing games, and family games.

2. Rhino Hero

Rhino Hero has been a surprise hit with everyone I introduced it to and causes more laughter and smiles than almost any game I have. My students love it, my family loves it, and I'm very glad I picked this little gem up. Rhino Hero is a card stacking game where players are trying to build a tower by placing roofs and walls. Each roof card has a marking to show where to place the wall cards and possibly a special symbol. These symbols may reverse play direction, skip a player, let a player place two roof cards or, the most dreaded, make the next player move the wooden Rhino Hero. The person who causes the tower to fall loses, and the person with the fewest roof cards wins! A simple, quick game, with great components and lots of fun packed into a tiny box!

3. Dimension

Dimension is an amazing three-dimensional puzzle game where players stack five different colored spheres according to the changing rules. Each round six cards are set out on the table; these form the rules for that round. For example, players may not be allowed to place blue and white next to each other, they must only use two black spheres, or they cannot place any color on top of white. Playing at the same time, players must place their spheres correctly in order to score the most points. There is a timer, so you have to think fast, remember the rules, and keep track of your spheres to score the best you can before time runs out. Players get points for each sphere they use and for having used all five colors. You then lose points if you don't follow a rule correctly. Dimension has been a hit with everyone I have tried it with. People who enjoy puzzles and logic games will like this one. The timer can cause some tension, but you can always play without it. The colorful spheres, three-dimensional aspect, and easy rules create a fast-paced logic game suitable for ages six and up, the younger children may find it a bit difficult.

4. Bad Beets

Does anyone in your family not like to eat their vegetables? Then Bad Beets is for you. Bad Beets is a bluffing card game where players are trying to be the first to "eat" (or more likely get rid of) all of their beets. Cards allow players to share beets with other players, 'feed the dog', copy their opponent's actions, or even tattle on others. You can choose the do the action you have on your card, or you can bluff and take a different action of your choice. Of course, others can call your bluff. If someone calls you out and don't have the card, then you can't take the action. But if you do, the tattle tale gets punished by having to take another beet.

Both adults and children can play Bad Beets, the theme, artwork, and components are inviting, and the rules are intuitive. Younger people who have played the game love the bluffing aspect and the ability to call out the adults they think aren't being truthful. I was amazed at how fast they picked up the strategy, and how good they are are reading others. Bad Beets is a great family activity, where everyone will be laughing and calling out Grandma for feeding the dog her beets.

5. Rory's Story Cubes

Rory's Story Cubes are more of an activity than a game. The dice have different pictures on each side and players roll them and then tell a tale with the rolled pictures. There are nine cubes in each set, and each side is unique. Players may roll a castle, a house, and a lock to tell a tale of the poor farmer who rescued the princess locked away in a dragon's tower.

There are different ways to play, from telling a story together, starting with a title and telling a story with the dice that are rolled, or just telling a story after the dice are rolled. There are even expansions with more dice to add variety to the games. Rory's Story Cubes is great for the creative and imaginative family. I can also see this being played with children still too young to read, but who love to tell stories. The can "write" a story with you, the only limit is their imagination. A great price point and great components make it a perfect stocking stuffer.

6. King of Tokyo

Gigantic robots, monsters, and aliens are vying to be the top monster and King of Tokyo. Players play one monster and roll six dice on their turn. The dice allow players to heal, gain victory points, gain energy or attack the other players. The dice are rolled Yahtzee style as players to try to get the perfect combination. Going into Tokyo has both risk and reward as it gives your extra victory points, but you can't heal in Tokyo. Players can use the gained energy to buy special cards that may deal damage to all the other players, heal wounds, or even gain armor. Players win by getting twenty victory points, or by being the last monster standing.

Rolling dice, getting special rewards with the cards, and being the fiercest monster in Tokyo makes King a Tokyo a great game for families who like 'take that' style games. It's a bit more complicated that the other family games on this list to learn but a blast to play once you understand the rules. I found young children picked it up quickly and they enjoyed beating up on each other. Players also enjoy the push your luck aspect of staying in Tokyo to gain points or leaving to heal and fight another day.

Card Games

These games involve a deck of cards and maybe a few other components. They aren't your traditional card games like UNO or solitaire. They can all be enjoyed by the family and are easy to learn. They are also very portable making them easy to take to a holiday gathering.

1. Red7

Red7 rules are simple, highest card wins, and you must be winning at the end of your turn to stay in the game. If you don't have the highest card, well, change the rules! For example, you can play a violet card and now the rule is that the player with the most cards below four wins. The cards match the various colors of the rainbow and players must be smart about the order and number of cards they play on their turn. There is a lot of strategy for a game with only 49 cards.

Each round is quick and losing one round isn't so bad. You can quickly shuffle the cards and start again. The re-playability is high for Red7. There are also some advanced rules for those looking for an even deeper gaming experience.

2. Sushi Go

Sushi Go is a game about eating sushi and scoring the most points. It's a card drafting game, which means players have a hand of cards and they must choose which card to keep and which card to pass There are many different ways to score points and to block the other players from scoring points. Players are also trying to collect the most pudding cards that only score at the end of game.

Sushi Go is a great game of meaningful decisions and lots of options of how to score points. It works with with players young and old. The artwork is really cute and the cards are good quality. This might work best with older children because they will need to understand the relationships and combinations of the cards to score points.

3. Hanabi

Hanabi is a cooperative card game in which players are trying to create the most spectacular fireworks show. Players know the cards each other player has, but they don't know their own cards as you have to hold your cards so only the other players can see what is in your hand.

To create the show, players must place the five different colors in order from 1-5. You can give hints about the colors and the numbers they have in their hand, but those hints are limited. Players can also discard cards or play a card to the table. The players must work together to avoid making mistakes and trying to finish the fireworks show before they run out of cards. Even if you don't finish with a perfect score you do score points for how well you do each game. The goal can be doing better next time.

Hanabi's theme, interesting mechanics and cooperative nature make it a great little game. Also, if cards aren't you thing, the deluxe version uses tiles instead of cards.

4. Machi Koro

Machi Koro is a city building dice game. Players are trying to build up their city in an effort to be the first to develop all their landmarks. Each turn the player will roll one or two dice and add the dice together to determine what will happen on their turn. If the total equals the number on one of their buildings, they get the benefit of that building. An opponent may also be able to gain an benefit. For example, the player may roll a 5 and anyone who owns a forest can gain one coin from the bank.

I love the art, simple rules, and dice rolling in Machi Koro. Without the expansions the game can lose its luster and rely too much on luck. It's still a good game and new gamers will enjoy that mix of strategy and luck. Once you have played a few games start looking at the expansions for variety and added strategy.

5. Brew Crafters: The Travel Card Game

With the popularity of Microbrews, Brew Crafters: the Travel Card Game is a great game for the beer enthusiast in your life. During the game, players are building up their brewery with equipment and workers and gathering ingredients to craft beers. Players earn reputation for brewing beer and the player with the best reputation wins the game.

I love the strategy and meaningful decisions of Brew Crafters: The Travel Card Game. There doesn't seem to be one strategy that will guarantee victory, so there is a lot of replay value. I love that the cards are used for multiple purposes, and you have to choose the best way to use the cards. The artwork, meaningful decisions, and multiple-use cards combine into a fun and light card game. Brew Crafters: the Travel Card Game is a great game for any game collection.

Teenager and Adult Games

Teenager and Adult Games are are a bit more complicated than Family Games and may include more adult themes. The games are more challenging and sometimes involve direct player conflict. They can still be played by families, but may require more time to learn the rules.

1. Baseball Highlights 2045

Baseball Highlights 2045 would be a great game for the sports fans on your list. This beautiful card game is set in a future where cyborgs, robots, and the occasional "natural" player compete in a fast-paced version of baseball. It isn't a simulation of baseball, but it still feels like baseball. The game is really a back and forth duel between the pitcher and the hitter. During each "mini-game", each player alternates playing six cards. The cards may have both defensive and/or offensive plays. And players must use strategy to decide what to do on their turn. Do they stop a hit, or save their out for a future bigger hit. In between each mini-game players can buy free agents and send a lesser player back to the minors (out of their hand) as a way to create a stronger team.

Baseball Highlights 2045 is quick to play and packed with a lot of meaningful decisions. The decisions you make in one mini-game will affect your entire game. I like building up my team with free agents in-between the mini-games. Your team will be very different by the end of the game, no two games I have played have been the same. Baseball fans, sports fans and even casual fans will enjoy this fast-paced version of baseball.

2. Roll For the Galaxy

Roll for the Galaxy is a dice building game set in space. The dice represent your populace and during the game you explore, develop new technology, settle worlds, and produce and trade goods to gain credits. Players roll their dice and choose which action to take based on the dice rolls. Play is simultaneous, so there isn't a lot of downtime during the game. The game allows for a good amount of luck mitigation by allowing for creative ways to manipulate your dice. There isn't a lot of player interaction or confrontation in Roll for the Galaxy, which may draw some players in while at the same time disappointing others. You will still need to outguess your opponents and build up your tableau before the others. The game seems extremely balanced and every game I have played has been very close.

Roll for the Galaxy is a easy game to learn but it will take sometime to understand the interactions and strategy of the game. The game also plays quickly and allows for multiple plays in one sitting. This would be a great gift for a science fiction fan or a dice lover.

3. Viticulture

Viticulture puts players in the role of a small winemaker in old-world Tuscany. Players build up their vineyard by planting fields, harvesting grapes, creating new structures and filling wine orders. In Viticulture, the components, artwork, and mechanics combine to create an artistic and thematic game about the wine-making business. Players start with two plots of land, a crush pad, a cellar, and three workers and use careful planting, helpful visitors, and smart gameplay to build up their vineyard. The work of the vineyard varies with the season and, once a worker is used, he is done for the year so you need to be very careful of your choices.

I really love the artwork and components of this worker placement game. The game is beautiful to look at. I love the build up the vineyard and the aging process of the wines. The play over the four seasons is a simple concept but adds much to the gameplay. Once you have played and get to the know the game I highly recommend getting the Tuscany expansion. The different modules of the expansion can be mixed in to the base game to create a whole new experience. A few of them have become permanent parts of our games.

4. Favor of the Pharaoh

Favor of the Pharaoh is another dice game on this list. In this game you are building up a dice pool and gaining ways to manipulate your dice. All of this is in preparation for a final dice roll off at the end of the game. You gain dice by going through different levels of Egyptian society and, as you gain favor, you travel up to the higher levels of the pyramid. Once a player has gained the Queen's influence a final contest for the Pharaoh's favor occurs. The final roll-off will determine which player wins the favor of the Pharaoh to win the game.

There are so many different tiles included in the game that set-up combinations seem endless. Building a growing dice pool is fun and is necessary to stay in the contest. There are also many different ways to manipulate your dice that helps take away some of the luck. The best part is that last dice roll off to determine the winner. It won't just be luck that wins that final roll off, what you accomplished during the game will affect your result. Favor of the Pharaoh would be a great game for anyone who enjoys the Egyptian Theme, but most importantly likes to roll a lot of dice.

5. Pandemic the Cure

Pandemic the Cure is a cooperative game where players are working together to cure the world of deadly diseases. It is the faster dice version of the popular Pandemic Board Game. During the game, each player takes on different roles such as the medic or researcher. Each role has a unique ability and custom dice. The dice allow the players to take actions such as treating diseases, taking samples, and flying between regions. The goal is to cure all four diseases but disaster can strike if too many outbreaks occur, too many people get infected, or the rate of infection gets too high.

Cooperative games allow all players to compete together instead of against each other which can appeal to many people. The quick gameplay (only 30 minutes), appealing theme, fantastic components, and fun push your luck dice rolling make Pandemic the Cure stand out among other cooperatives. It isn't easy to win, but you can always play another round, and it feels fantastic when you can save the world.

Party Games

Party games are great icebreakers, family bonding experiences, and ways to pass the time with friends and loved ones. These games may involve some loud noises, laughter, and memory making opportunities.

1. Spyfall

In this bluffing and deduction game, one player is the spy, trying to discover their location while all other players are trying to discover who is the spy. At the beginning of a round each player receives a location card (Circus Tent / Police Station / Zoo) and one player receives the spy card. Players then ask each other questions to discover who is the spy, and if they do, they win the round. If the spy can stay hidden, and discover the location the spy wins the round.

Spyfall is a great party game that is quick to play, easy to teach, and a lot of fun. It would be great for groups who like social deduction games and wouldn't have trouble coming up with questions to ask. You get a chance to be creative not only with your questions but also with your answers.

2. Concept

Concept is a very unique and cerebral party game. Using the iconography of the board, one player will try to get the others to guess the word or phrase. There are a wide variety of icons on the board that describe concepts such as directions, size/relationships, colors, feelings, genres of created works, etc... The player will place a question mark for a big idea and matching colored cubes to support that idea.

The game can be played in teams, as individuals, or my favorite way, everyone working together. There are points awarded for being the correct guesser, but we rarely use them in our games. Concept is a great because the rules or simple but you really have to think. It isn't a game where you might expect a lot of shouting and laughter, but you will have a good time together. For anyone who likes deduction, critical thinking, and being creative, Concept would be the perfect party game.

3. Codenames

Codenames is a unique word game. In Codenames there is a grid of 25-word cards; these are the 'codes' that represent the code names of different spies. Two different teams of players are trying to guess who their spies are, avoid guessing the other teams spies, and avoid the assassin. One team member gives a one-word clue and a number, matching the number of cards in the grid that fit that clue. The team then can guess words they think fit the clue. If they guess correctly it is covered with their teams color. If it is not correct, it is covered with the other teams color if it belongs to them or with neutral if it belongs to no one. If the assassin is guessed, the team immediately loses.

Codenames will be enjoyed by both gamers and nongamers, the simple rules and easy gameplay makes it accessible to almost anyone. I also like the fact that it is a party game that can also be played by only two players. Codenames is a party game that makes you think critically, make smart choices, and weigh your options.

Picture Credits: Chris Brua (cbrua), W. Eric Martin (W Eric Martin)(2),kirby g (keebie), IELLO Cédric (kherubim), W. Eric Martin (W Eric Martin)(2), Pandasaurus Games (stooge), Ralph H. Anderson (DragonCat), W. Eric Martin (W Eric Martin)(4), François + Daphné Camdin, Jana Zemankova (JanaZemankova)
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Sat Dec 12, 2015 8:45 pm
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Origins 2015 - Sunday & Final Thoughts

Kristen McCarty
United States
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It was another successful Origins this year. The people, the publishers, designers, podcasters, and players are what this hobby is all about, and Origins Game Fair is where they can all shine. This year many people made it to Origins for the first time, and that’s great. The numbers were definitely up this year, yet the convention still keep its intimate atmosphere. It’s a place where you can talk with designers, publishers, and your favorite podcasters. Which is probably why I am drawn to Origins over larger conventions like Gen Con. It will always be one of my favorite yearly events.

Nations: The Dice Game

We weren’t planning on staying long on Sunday, as we faced a long car ride back and work on Monday. We planned to hit a few spots we had thus far missed. Even before the Vendor Hall opened, we made our way to Hall D to demo Nations: The Dice Game. We played a three player demo game and enjoyed it. I wish the art was a bit more vibrant; it isn’t up to par with other current games with a similar theme. I also wish some of the components were slightly better quality for a 50 dollar game. The demo copy tiles were very worn, and our copy is showing wear even after two plays. The etched dice are fantastic. The graphics are easy to see, and they seem to be able to hold up to repeated use.

Game play was fun and light. There are a lot of meaningful decisions to make on your turn, and you get a bit of the feel of building up your nation. But the theme, like the game, is pretty light. The game does work better with more players. Three players was fun, but two players is just okay.

Epic Card Game

Last year at Origins we picked up Star Realms from White Wizard Games. Star Realms has quickly become a hit for its great game play and price point. This year White Wizard Games is Kickstarting Epic. This fantasy card game follows in the footsteps of Star Realms. For a $15 price point, you get an amazing amount of play. Each deck comes with 128 cards- 120 creatures and spells, and eight double-sided tokens. Up to four players can play the game. To accommodate more players, all you need to do is add another deck. The great thing about Epic is that it has a Collectable Card Game feel with no collectable aspect; all non-promo cards come in the box. Someone who likes to deck build can use one box of Epic to play draft, sealed, or constructed.

We played the demo of Epic at White Wizards booth. Players start with 30 cards and 30 life points. Cards either cost one gold or have a zero cost. On you turn you can play one gold cost card and any number of 0 cost cards. The goal of the game is to attack you opponent and take them to 0 life.

Epic is a great game. I feel like to I would need to spend some time with the rules to understand it more, and get he timing down. There is s a lot of strategy in the game and not being a player of a lot of CCG’s the timing was difficult for me to understand. A fan of CCG’s will love how Epic gets right to the most exciting part of the game. You get right to putting out creatures and using spells, instead of having to build up to the big creatures slowly. The artwork is beautiful, and the iconography is clear and easy to read. I prefer a fantasy theme to a space theme. A CCG feels without spending the CCG cost, a great theme and artwork, and exciting game-play is all part of the recipe for a hit game. After our Epic demo we made one last tour of the Vendor Hall and headed to lunch and our ride home.

Eats & Treats

In these overviews I never talked about the restaurants we ate at, for those interested I share some of my favorite places here. The most popular spot for Origins attendees is probably The North Market. It is a great place for lunch or an early dinner, and a definite stop if you attend Origins. A quick walk from the convention center will give you a variety of options for your dining pleasure. There are a lot of dining areas from Best of the Wurst, to Holy Smoke BBQ, to Indian, and my favoirte sandwich place Katzinger’s Little Delicatessen. Treats here include there ever popular and unique Jenny’s Splendid Ice Cream and Destination Donuts.

If you are willing to walk a little bit go to Short North, and head to the back alley to find my favorite dining location is Tasi Cafe. The food here is amazing and the offer both breakfast and lunch. We tried both and were not disappointed. They use fresh, natural ingredients and amazing bakery bread. The prices are also very reasonable. It’s worth the walk, and sometimes the wait. Plus, while you are there you can check out all the great shops and galleries in the Short North Arts District.

I encourage you to take a break from the convention once in awhile. Columbus is a beautiful city, and there is so much there to explore.

Origins Overall

Origins had been a blast, we had seen a lot of old friends, meet some new ones, and talked the ears off of designers and publishers. We played a lot of demos and yet there is always so much more to do and see. Origins may be a small convention, but there is never a time when I feel I have “seen it all.” Origins may have had a few slow years, but it seems to be growing steadily again. The convention center is great and the city very accommodating. Many businesses had “Welcome Origins Attendees” signs on their doors. After a few years of attending Columbus has become more familiar and easier to get around. Thanks again for the memories everyone and I can’t wait to see you next year.

Picture Credits: W. Eric Martin (W. Eric Martin), Garrett Kaida (Kermit2005), Tazi Cafe, and all others were taken by my wonderful husband – thanks for sharing your great pictures
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Tue Jun 16, 2015 6:45 pm
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Origins 2015 - June 6

Kristen McCarty
United States
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Darkrock Ventures

After the excitement of our first day at Origins, I had high hopes for day two, and I wasn't disappointed. I started my day talking with Ian Stedman of Magic Meeple Games. He showed me a preview of Darkrock Ventures by Michael Eskue. Darkrock Ventures will be launching on Kickstarter on July 14th. I enjoyed our playtest of Darkrock, and it may end up being the first Kickstarter I have supported in awhile.

Darkrock Ventures is a science fiction themed worker placement game. Players control a mining crew and are working to mine asteroids in space. Not only are the competing against the other players, but the Therion Marauders, the aliens who will attack. Players need to acquire the most credits to win the game. Players start out with two credits, three regular crew, and three cargo spaces.

At the start of the round, the leader rolls the two white power dice. Players now choose where to assign their crew members, one at a time. A player can assign more than one crew to a space where they already have crew. This allows players to gain more resources or earn the benefit of the space twice.

The crew members may be placed to mine the minerals. The three choices are iron (orange), cobalt (blue), and platinum (white). Crew can also be placed on gear, upgrades, and bonuses. Some examples of the gear are precision imaging that lets you subtract 1 or add 1 to your die roll, rough imaging that lets you subtract or add up to three to your roll, the vortex drill that let you flip a die over and use that result, or Rover which lets you move your crew to an adjacent mining site. Crew spaces let you recruit a crew or captain by paying for it, release crew to gain credits, or subcontract to gain credits. A captain counts as two normal crew. export let you sell your resources, cargo to unlock another cargo slot and leader lets you become the leader.

There are other spaces that also help your manipulate your dice or gain extra dice for a turn. You can also become the leader or export (sell) your resources. Their is also a Solar Array space where players try to earn solar energy.

After everyone has placed their crew, the black neutronium die is rolled and added to the other white dice. The three dice are the community dice and used to obtain resources.

If a player has exported at least one resource the aliens have been altered to the mining activity and will now attack each round. The leader reveals an Therian Marauder card. The card shows what spaces the aliens will attack. Players with crew on spaces attached by aliens have three options. They can activate shields by spending one neutronium to protect their crew, they may fell, remove the crew token from the board, or exchange where they spend any other resource besides neutronium. I didn't find the aliens to be too disruptive, but Ian did hint that some Kickstarter rewards may offer some tougher aliens.

Now each player rolls their rig dice and tries to add and get the desired number. It turned out to be more difficult than I first suspected, until I grew wise to using the gear and other spaces to manipulate my dice. After that obtaining resources was a bit easier. To obtain resources, a player must match one power die or the neutronium die and one of their own dice, to get an exact number needed (4, 8, or 12). If they don't match, they don't get the desired resource. Instead, they come back with some neutronium as a consolation.

As players gain resources, they may store these in their cargo hold. A player only starts out with three spaces, but may obtain more during the game. Players may also obtain more dice during the game. Once the reach a certain number of credits, they will unlock a new die.

The game ends once resources have been depleted. When three of the six resources on the asteroid have no minerals, the game end is triggered. The round is finished, and the player with the most credits wins the game. Games usually last 30-40 minutes.

I enjoyed playing Darkrock Ventures; the rules were intuitive so I caught on pretty quick. That isn't to say it isn't challenging. There are a lot of decisions to make and time goes quickly. You need to play optimally to beat your opponents. I enjoyed the dice rolling, hoping to get the right number but being wise to what spaces will help me get the resources. Because you always came away at least one resource, it was never really too disappointing. Besides the neutronium was the perfect thing to have in case of an alien attack.

Darkrock Ventures is a solid game. It has the feel of a well tested and proven game. The mix of euro game, dice rolling, and alien attacks will be sure to make this a hit. Darkrock Ventures will do well on Kickstarter, and I can't wait for it to be published. Look for it on Kickstarter on July 14th!

The Witchborn

After our discussion with Ian, we decided to make our way to Cory Kammar and get a demo of The Witchborn since we had not had a chance to get a demo in during our discussion Friday night.

Cory took us through the quick start rules and showed us how to measure and move our figures. He also showed us the pdf forms. These looked gorgeous and once he had gone over them with us, easy to use and understand. Like any miniatures game, you will need to learn the ins and outs of the conditions and meaning of the words. But even with very little miniatures experience it wasn't overwhelming.

We ran through the first scenario from "The Chase." In it there were two points of interest, one of which was the cargo that was dropped from the magical flying ship as it crashed. It was a race to find the cargo and get off of the map. As we played, we used the app to determine the result of the discovery and wounds. I liked the story the resulted from the app. I could see my clansmen feel racing for the point of interest and when they cut off the nose of another character. I know my Eric opponent went way too easy on me and I ended up winning the scenario. Thanks Eric, you didn't need to do that.

After we had played, Cory took us through leveling up our characters. Even though I wouldn't be playing with those characters again, I enjoyed the excitement of rolling my dice to see what I would get. My results were okay, and I could quickly see how important it was to gain experience and make hits and discoveries during the game. Even in our quick demo the rich storytelling of The Witchborn and how attached you will become to your clan members. The app added a lot to the gameplay. I should note that the app only available for IOS, but they are working on the Android app.

I like the fact that miniatures don't come with the game. It keeps the cost down and you can use any minature you want. Using miniatures you already own is a great option. The Witchborn turned out to be our first purchase of the con. We were too busy Friday to buy anything, and I was really excited about this game. I have started to look at the quick start rules and think about the clan I want to build. Once we have played a bit, I'll report back more.

The Dealer Hall

We had only had time for a quick run through of the Dealer Hall on Friday. The hall was packed this year, and I know we had missed most of it. We also wanted to make our way around Hall D since it is becoming almost as crowded as the Dealer Hall these days.

I had thought the crowd was large on Friday, but Saturday is the busiest day. The ticket lines were long, and I was glad we didn't have to wait for them. I noticed that there were a lot of families as well. It makes me feel good to see more families coming to Origins. I feel as more companies like Blue Orange and HABA attend they will encourage that trend to continue.

Gaming accessories were everywhere in the dealer hall, and a few notables stood out to me. Of course, Geek Chic tables are always a big draw. They make beautiful wooden gaming tables that reveal a felt gaming surface when you remove the top. I have loved these tables for many years, but can't quite afford the investment.

Other wooden components included the beautiful work on Wormwood Gaming. They offer deck boxes, dice trays, dice vaults, and of course dice towers. Their quality is second to none. They offered a variety of wood choices and price ranges.

Hrothgar's Hoard offered many wooden gaming accessories as well. We bought a really neat dice tray from him. I hadn't seen one like it before and thought the small size was perfect. It is a hexagon shaped, double dice tray. The two trays fit together with magnets and allow you to store dice safely inside. It's great for travel and small tables. Plus it's two trays in one. I know it will get a lot of use during our gaming sessions.

The Origins Award winner for fan favorite gaming accessory was CritSuccess Dice Rings. Yes, dice rings. These spinner rings came in a variety of colors and values. They had D6 to D20 rings, as well as compass direction rings, rock paper scissor rings, hit location rings, an alphabet ring, and many more. They won the Origins Award for the counter clicker ring. All the rings were made out of steel and etched. They seemed to hold up as well, as they showed us a ring that they had worn for four years. The ring had only minor scratching. It deserved its award.

We also tried a few demos of games. At Thames & Kosmos, I was most interested in taking a look at Dimension. Dimension is a puzzle game where you lay out six cards. These cards are the rules you must follow to stack your balls (the puzzle pieces). They may tell you have many of one color you must use, which colors can't touch or be stacked on top, or even if you must have more of one color than another. Players must follow these rules to finish the puzzle before the timer runs out. I thought it would be easy, but remembering all the rules and racing the clock was trickier than I thought. This made it a lot of fun to play. The variety of rule cards adds to the re-playability. Besides Dimension, Thames & Kosmos was also highlighting a few older game they now have available, through their company in the United States. These tiles included Lost Cities, Kahuna, Dohdles!, and Ubongo. All great titles, a few of which have been or are currently in my collection.

We next headed to Stronghold Games and Steven Buonocore. Steven was the first person to welcome us to Origins. This year his both was in front of the dealer hall. Steven is always so welcoming when we see him at conventions. I remember Stronghold's first Origins back when he first published Survive! It has been a joy to see his company grow so that he could be one of the sponsor's of Origins this year. This year, La Granja and Dark Moon were his newest additions. Dark Moon had sold out by the time we arrived Thursday, but there were a few copies of La Granja available. It was one of his older games, just back in stock that we wanted to demo.

Diamonds has intrigued me for quite some time but I am leery of trick taking games, they just don't make a lot of sense to me. We played a demo with six players, and it was a lot of fun. I did horribly, as expected, but I understood the mechanisms. I liked that fact that if you lost a trick but played a different suite, you could take that suits action. We, of course, picked up a copy, and I look forward to playing this with my family who does enjoy trick-taking games.

At Jolly Roger, we took a look at another game currently on Kickstarter, 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis. You can check out the Kickstarter here. 13 days is a mix of the popular board games Twilight Struggle and 1960: The Making of the President. The Cuban Missile Crisis is the theme of this two player, card-driven game. Fans of Twilight Struggle may appreciate the short, 45-minute playtime, with all the tough decisions, tense moments, and elegant design of 13 Days. I even just enjoyed looking through the cards showing the highlights of this fascinating period. Due to time, we didn't get a demo in, but from those who did, the game comes highly recommended. It has already funded on Kickstarter, but you have to the third of July to join. Be sure to check out their Kickstarter.

It seems that there is one game at Origins that catches our eye, a game that we weren't expecting but decide to buy. This games are sometimes a hit and sometimes forgettable. This year we were drawn to Albion's Legacy, a cooperative tile placement and exploration game with a King Author theme. It was a successful Kickstarter from Lynnvander Productions. Players take on the role of one of the characters from the King Author Legend, including King Author, Sir Lancelot, or the Lady of the Lake. Players are exploring to collect relics, artifacts, and weapons while surviving attacks. The beautiful artwork, theme, tiles and exploration of the game drew us in; the big box was a bit of a turn-off. The box was designed to be able to hold all of the expansions, a nice idea, but it still left the question of storage. Luckily it's the same size a the Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary edition, so they are on the self together. We didn't demo the game there but were invited to play a demo that night on the Geek Chic tables their lounge after the dealer hall closed.

We also made our way back to HABA to buy a few games. I wanted to pick up a few gifts for my nieces and nephews and Rhino Hero for my classroom. It was a hard decision; I wanted to buy them all. But I picked up Loco Lingo Fastgrasp for the educational value and Good Night at the Stable after its rave review from Lea. Rhino Hero has seen a lot of play this last week of school in my classroom. Both my middle and high school kids loved it, so I'm glad I picked it up at Origins. I regret not picking up First Orchard with its beautiful pieces and fun theme.

We made sure to stop by Academy Games for an important pick-up at the convention. For both 1775: Rebellion and Freedom: The Underground Railroad, Academy had partnered with Rosen Classroom to write lesson plan books. These books show teachers how to have a play-based approach to teaching. The lessons show a teacher how to integrate primary resources, essential questions, vocabulary and gameplay to create a rich learning experience. I was impressed with the layout, ideas, and ease of use of the books. Many times I buy resource books for my classroom, but I rarely use them. I have wanted to incorporate games into my classroom, but it isn't easy. These two books will help me bring 1775 and Freedom into my classroom.

Our next demo was at Eagle Gryphon Games with Ralph Anderson. We had to demo is Hall D, since they were not demoing any games in the Dealer Hall. We wanted to try out Baseball Highlights 2045. There has been a lot of praise for the game and we were really interested. Ralph was a great, he told us about the development of the game and about Mike Fitzgerald, the designer. I enjoyed our demo of Baseball Highlights 2045; the game was a blast and quick to play. The idea of the game is that baseball as we know it has changed. The game is sped up and shortened to six innings, players can now have bionic arms, and robots have been included for more offensive play.

This isn't a baseball simulation game since there are no outs or innings. Players compete in a series a mini-games to determine the winner. Between each mini-game players can recruit free agents to build their team. During the mini-game players use cards with offensive and defensive actions to either advance runners or get out an opponents player. We like the fast play of the game and the idea of being able to play mini-games that build into a series. The team-building element of the free agent cards was a great addition as you try to create the winning line-up. The mash-up of historical players names, like Micky Maris, amused me and will please a baseball fan.

It was a little different for each player having their own field, but after playing it made sense. But the game didn't seem like it was thematically baseball, but more that the baseball theme came later. This isn't a criticism, just an observation. The expansions such as the coaches and hitters should add some more flavor to the game. Ralph also told us that more teams will be coming out shortly. I was pleased to hear my beloved Pirates will soon make an appearance. You favorite team will probably be represented as well. Maybe they can make a card of my hometown hero, pitcher Christy Mathewson.

Our last stop in the Dealer Hall, right before closing was Calliope Games. Every year Calliope has a large version of a favorite game. This year Roll for It! was highlighted, and people seemed to enjoy playing. We demoed Double Double Dominoes. The game is a mash up between dominoes and scrabble and an innovative way to play dominoes. It isn't a new game, but it is the first time I have seen it. I think the familiar mash-up of favorite games makes it an inviting game for newcomers and classic board game fans.

The Dice Tower Live Show

After a nice dinner and a chance to watch American Pharoah win the triple crown, we headed to The Dice Tower Live Show. The Dice Tower is a favorite podcast we have listened to since about 2009; this was our first chance to see then in action. We has met Tom Vassel, Eric Summerer, and Jason Levine earlier in the day to ask about the show. We sat with a really nice couple and chatted before the show began about our experience with the show. We were also surprised to learn it was their first time at Origins. The show started with some interviews of Dice Tower Contributors and other podcasters in the Dice Tower Network. It was a lot of fun to see people in person whom I had heard on a podcast or seen in a video. After the interviews, they went to part two were they played the match game. At least one of the panel including Jason Levine, Zee Garcia, Mary Prasad, Steven Buonocore, Steve Avery, and Steve from the Secret Cabal podcast, needed to match the contestants answer for them to win a prize. The answers ranged form which publisher excites you the most (Stronghold of course) to if you were a die, what die would you be? No contestant really went away empty handed as they good nauturaedly let them choose a prize even if they didn't match. The show and our night ended with audience questions. We had a lot of fun at the show and laughed a lot. I hope next year they do the same thing. Saturday at Origins was packed full and an absolute blast. We weren't sure about attending Sunday's Origins, but after discussion realized there was still more we wanted to see. So it was off to our hosts home for a good nights rest and the prospect of one more day or Origins.

Pictures Credits: from www.boardgamegeek.com: Michael Coe (mgcoe), Wrymwood, CritSuccess, Stephen Buonocore (evilone), Daniel Skjold Pedersen (megalomane)

All other were taken by my wonderful husband Mike. Thanks you all for sharing your wonderful pictures!
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Sun Jun 14, 2015 7:25 pm
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Origins 2015 - Friday, June 5th

Kristen McCarty
United States
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Summer 2015 started out, as usual, in the beautiful city of Columbus. There we were making our annual pilgrimage to Origins, my favorite gaming convention. I enjoy seeing all the new games, meeting old friends, making new ones, and spending time with my husband.

Origins Game Fair is a five-day event, running from Wednesday through Sunday. Even after five conventions, we have not yet made it to every day of the convention. This year we attended three of the days; Friday through Sunday. Board and card games are the main attraction for me, but there is so much to see and do at Origins. Attendees can try their hand at Role Playing Games, LARPS, Miniatures Gaming, seminars, costume contests, auctions, and so much more.

Even though I have come to the convention for a few years now and felt like I know my way around, there are always new things to discover. This year was no different. There was gaming in every corner of the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

June 5, 2015 - Day 1

Friday started a little later than I had hoped due to traffic congestion and construction. We arrived around noon and were able to check in quickly. This year Origins had bar code scanners for per-registration. The idea was to scan the card, make sure your name showed up and then print out your badge. It went pretty smoothly for most people though our badges didn't want to work. It was quickly worked out, and we were soon on our way to the Dealer Hall.

Lost Battalion Games

Our first stop was Lost Battalion Games, a company and family I have gotten to know and love over the lost few years. Jeff and Debbie Billings are always so welcoming and willing to talk. This year LBG was debuting their recent Kickstarter success, Sergeants D-Day Board Game. Sergeants D-Day is a card driven WWII game that shares a lot of the same elements as Sergeants Miniatures. Players control a unique squad of soldiers as they try to combine wise decisions with the perfect strategy. It is a lot smaller scale than Sergeants Miniatures with all the great elements.

Jeff was also kind enough to give us a demo of "Rally Round the Flag," which is currently on Kickstarter. Rally Round the Flag is the "...first time a table top board game allows Gettysburg to be played with the ability to zoom into the battles as they are fought. As a player, you can play with divisions, brigades or even regiments and move between the different points of view on the battlefield." Every day of the convention, Jeff had the map set up for a different day of the battle. Friday was day two, and we focused on the battle in the Wheat Field.

Jeff told us about the game features the amazing art Mort Kunstler and the three levels of games available. The smallest version, which still includes a surprising number of cards and figures plays in about three hours. The middle level, which we played, may be played in 5-9 hours. The game can be broken up by day allowing for a shorter day. For the hardcore wargamers, the largest game comes with 2308 cards, over 1000 standees, 60-inch map, and the Brigade game are included. This version can take from 24 to 40 total hours to play. But this gives you a true sense of the entire battle of Gettysburg.

The game looks magnificent, and even the prototypes were great quality. I liked the mechanic of zooming in on a specific battle off the main game map. The resolution of the battle was quick but deep. The Battle of Gettysburg is always a theme that draws me in, and I think that "Rally Round the Flag" will please a lot of people. While the largest version may be too much for you, the other two levels will please a lot of players. Check out the Kickstarter project here for more information: [geekurl=https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1649576328/rally-round-the-flag.][/geekurl]


My first official interview of Origins was with HABA games and Lea Culliton. I admit, that HABA games are my guilty pleasure. I only have nieces and nephews, but the amazing wooden pieces and yellow boxes have always drawn me in. All of this made me quite excited to get to talk to Lea.

When I arrived, the HABA booth was busy, as expected. It wasn't just families with children, but a few grown-up. Maybe, I might not be the only one obsessed with HABA games.

2015 was HABA's first year at Origins. Lea told me she was surprised at how nice that the other game publishers and attendees were. She has mostly had experience in the toy market and was pleasantly surprised by the kind reception from Origins. I wasn't surprised to hear this, as I have always commented at the amazing people involved in this hobby. She also seemed disappointed that she had not brought some of the bigger games as there was a demand for them. The booth had mostly smaller games, which more of a focus on younger children from the "My Very First Games Series". These games included such titles as Bubble Bath Bunny, Evening in the Stables, First Orchard, and Animal Upon Animal.

Lea taught us about HABA's experience in the US market and the differences between the two countries. Lea told us how HABA is much more of a household name in Germany and other European countries. They have been around for over 75 years and known for their high-quality games and toys. There is also a cultural difference, as most families don't work on Sunday. Instead this time is for the family, with board games an important aspect of the day. Lea also told us why some HABA games don't come in the famous HABA yellow packaging but are pink or blue. It isn't for boy or girl games, but to keep the HABA section from being too yellow.

I like the distinct look of HABA games and the amazing wooden pieces. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about HABA's manufacturing purpose and finally learn the answer to my question about what kind of wood used for the games. HABA uses regional forest beech wood. HABA uses reforested timber for their wooden pieces; they plant a new tree, for every one cut down. HABA creates the wooden shapes with a lot of love and care. Non-toxic, water-based stains show the wood grain and make a safe toy. This way the natural beauty shows through.

Lea is responsible for choosing games to bring to the United States, and I asked her what she looks for in a HABA game. Lea likes to bring games to the US market that use the wooden pieces, as they are a known part of HABA. She also likes games that use the box as part of the game. I also like this in games. I am always amused by the creative ways designers incorporate the box into the game. Some of the notable games at Origins that did this were Hungry as a Bear, Bubble Bath Bunny, and Here Fishy, Fishy. Another very important element that Lea looks for games that involve both adults and the children. Gaming is a family experience, after all.

We also spoke about the educational value of HABA games. The Loco Lingo series offers many suggestions and ways to play. Parents can read stories, poems, riddles or more, as the children listen for clues. The develop listening, motor, language skills, and their imagination as they play the games. I was impressed with the Loco Lingo series for this aspect. As a teacher, I can see the value of a good literacy game. As an Aunt, I see the fun yet educational value for my nieces and nephews. The toy value of the components mixed with multiple play ideas creates and open-ended game that can grow with the children.

Children are not the only ones who can play HABA games, and a great example of that was the popular Rhino Hero game. Lea told me about playing this game with her teenage son and the fun they had. She also talked about the gamers who told her how they bought multiple copies and put them together for and epic game. Rhino Hero involves stacking cards in a tower and moving around the wooden Rhino superhero, all while trying to not knock the tower over.

I had a wonderful time speaking with Lea and learning all about the different games, and an incredible company. I encourage you to check out the amazing games HABA's has to offer. There is a lot to watch out for Monster Laundry and game of monsters trying to get rid of their smelly laundry. Fans of Gulo Gulo will be pleased to hear that a new Egyptian re-theme will be coming out soon in US markets. Look for Pharaoh's Gulo Gulo in the United States, this summer.

Stoneblade Entertainment

My next stop was Stoneblade Entertainment where we talked about one of my favorite games, Ascension and the "Dawn of Champions" expansion. We spoke with Ian Estrin about the latest game. We have seen multiple faction heroes, but in Dawn of Champions we also see multi-faction monsters, something that intrigued me. There is also a new mechanic introduced called Rally. This mechanic lets players acquire heroes or defeat monsters of the same faction. Players are also controlling champions with over-sized champion cards. Players need to build up their reputation to unlock powerful cards and effects. I can't wait to explore all these new ideas. Whenever I think Ascension is complete, Stoneblade continues to surprise me with new ideas and ways to play.

Dealer Hall

There was still a bit of time between my appointment with Stoneblade and my last meeting for the day. Mike and I decided to do a quick tour of the Dealer Hall. This year the Dealer Hal was packed from front to back. It was the fullest I have ever seen it since I have come to Origins. Hall D was also much bigger this year.

The usual companies, including, Stronghold, Mayfair, Catalyst Games, Rio Grame, Iello, Kosmos, Stoneblade, Arcane Wonders, Eagle Gryphon, AEG, Calliope, Plaid Hat, Ares, Jolly Roger, R&R Games, Cool Mini or Not, Academy Games, Star Realms and many more filled the hall. Many beautiful works of art were on display at the Artists Expo. Cool Stuff had a large both for their first show. It always seemed very busy with people buying and selling, and carrying around the blue Cool Stuff bags. There were many booths selling costumes, wooden accessories, jewelry, dice, and so much more. We made a quick run through but didn't make see the entire hall.

We also wanted to make a stop by the Board Game Room. We had recently culled our collection and had games we wanted to donate. They directed us to Andy Hopp, who works with Con on the Cob. We learned the Con on the Cobb is a convention that runs from October 15-18 in Richfield Ohio. Andy was so genuine and happy when we donated our games. It made me feel great to know they were going to a convention where many people could enjoy and play the games. Andy told us a bit about Con on the Cobb, which seems like an awesome convention. There is jazz music, art shows, and card and board games.

The WitchBorn

Every year at Origins, I enjoy looking at the miniatures games. I am usually scared away by the complex and endless rules. The commitment needed to paint and build the figures also makes me think twice. Still, I find myself drawn to miniatures games. Over the years, I have collected a few pre-painted miniatures, hoping to find a game to play. Mike and I have discussed how much we would like to play where we each controlled a faction. When Cory Kammer contacted me about his newest miniature game The Witchborn, I decided to give it a look. I was still a bit skeptical. After a quick overview and look at the Kickstarter page, I wanted to learn more. I was intrigued by how The Witchborn combines a tabletop skirmish game with storytelling.

Another great part of the game is the app. One of the recent trends in gaming is to integrate an app to enhance the game-play experience. This idea fascinates me, especially when it takes a lot of the bookkeeping out of the game. The app is one of the draws of The Witchborn. It randomizes encounters, discoveries, and hit results and creates an almost role playing like experience in a miniatures game. The app becomes the game master. The app was so easy to use and enhanced the game-play. Don’t worry, in case you don’t have a smartphone, you can also print cards and use those instead.

Another unique aspect of the Witchborn is the leveling up system, another RPG like experience. As the figures play through the scenarios, they gain experience points, wounds, treasures, weapons, and more. Players can track all of this on the easy to use PDF rosters. Cory even has some tutorial videos on how to build your war clan.

When a hero levels up, a die roll will determine the reward. A bell curve is used for heroes to earn skills and proficiency. Rolling a double gives you master skills. This system gives you that zero to hero feel. Be careful because your well armored, experienced warriors can die. Fair warning, in Perdition, "dead, isn't dead-not anymore." When a hero falls their body is taken over by the WitchBorn, who will fight back against your clan. In this post-apocalyptic world, the WitchBorn have returned from the dead.

During our discussion, Cory told after about 8-9 years of designing and play-testing he was ready to put his game up on Kickstarter. The WitchBorn funded in February and went live in March. Currently, two adventures are available with more tested. The plan is to release one adventure every few months. The later campaigns will probably require a more experienced clan. The first adventure "The Chase" is all about a magical airship that has crashed and jettisoned cargo across the plain. The second adventure Asylum came out at Origins.

Cory was teaching the game and giving out free quick-start guides at Origins for "The Chase." It's a plus that 2-6 players can play. I was surprised with the quality of the physical components. They and artwork are beautiful. The monsters are pretty gruesome. The map is a vinyl roll-out (46"x 39") map, and it should resist scratches and spills. The attack dice and condition markers add to the game. The rosters are easy to read, easy to use, and change as your characters gain experience. You can keep track of all of your digital downloads when you register at [geekurl=www.witchborn.com]www.witchborn.com[/geekurl] Check out more about The Witchborn.

Our first day was incredible, and I left the convention center both exhausted and jazzed. I was excited about everything I had seen and done and couldn't wait for day two to begin.

Picture Credits: from www.boardgamegeek.com - Matthew Azzam(MatthewA33am), W. Eric Martin(W Eric Martin), Cory Krammer

All other pictures were taken by my wonderful husband. Thank you all for sharing your work.
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Wed Jun 10, 2015 4:48 am
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2014 Holiday Gift Guide

Kristen McCarty
United States
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Continuing with the tradition I started last year. I am creating a new holiday board game gift guide for 2014. I know there are a lot of holiday gift guides out there. I hope to give you some different ideas with this mix of games. I tired to keep the games simple; with rules that are easy to read and understand. Each category has five games. I am adding a new category this year with heavier strategy games.

Many of these games won't be found at your big box stores. Target and Barnes and Noble do offer a good selection. If you can't find the game try Amazon or another online game store. Of course your friendly local game store is a great place to look, shop local!

I am also not including the same games I has on last years list. I didn't want repeats. Those games are still great and some of my first recommendations. So look back at last year's list if you want.

Family Games

Games in this category are family friendly in rules, length, and theme. Children below 7 may need a partner to help them. The Themes have a wide appeal and the rules are easy to learn.

1. 10 Days in Series

The 10 Days in Series is a wonderfully fun and educational games. This five game series includes: 10 Days in the USA, Africa, Europe, Asia, and in the Americas. Each game in the series has similar rules and components. Choose the theme that interests you the most, or try the whole series. I love them all, but my favorite is Europe.

During the game players are trying to connect a 10-Day journey. Either by walking (when a country borders another country) or by a special mode of travel (boat, plane, car) players must complete a connected journey. The first player to do so wins the game.

I love this series for both the educational value and the ease of play. I have used it with great success in both my classroom and in my home. The components are amazing and will stand up to many years of wear and tear. It is a great addition to any collection.

2. Animal Upon Animal

Carcassonne is also one of the first games I played when I got into the hobby. And, like Ticket to Ride has many, many versions and expansions. Again more seem to come out every year! I also suggesting starting out with the original version and adding from there. Many expansions are very small and only add a few tiles.

Animal Upon Animal is a lot like the classic dexterity game Jenga. The difference? Well besides from the cute animal shapes in Animal Upon Animal you are building instead of taking down. But you still are trying to avoid having everything come crashing down.

Players try to stack their different wooden animals to top of each other. They roll a die to determine if they have to place one or two animals. If any fall, the player has to take them into their pile. The first person to get rid of all their animals wins.

This fun stacking game works with even young children and can be an equalizer between young and old. The amazing components, easy rules, and dexterity element make it a fun family game that everyone can enjoy.

3. Tokenoko

I admit, the cuteness factor is a big sell for Tokenoko The cute panda and the colorful components completely won me over when I first saw this game. Still they aren't enough to earn a spot on this list. That and the great game play make this a great, although a bit deeper family game.

In the game players are trying to cultivate bamboo in three different colors, move the panda around so he can eat the bamboo, and build patterns with the plot tiles. Players have hidden objective cards they need to achieve in order to score victory points. For example they may want to have the Panda eat three different or build three yellow plots in a row. There is a lot of strategy involved but the game plays at a relaxing pace. At games end, players have created a beautiful garden worthy of the Giant Panda.

4. Augustus

As with Tokenoko, Augustus is a bit more complicated than the first two family games. The rules for Augustus are simple and easy to learn. The difficulty of the game comes in the strategy. The basics of Augustus are very similar Bingo. Players are trying to complete "objective" cards that need by covering up the different symbols on the card. These symbols are randomly drawn from a bag and called by a player. Whenever a symbol on the player's card is called they can cover that symbol. Some of the symbols are rarer than the others. When the card is completed the player will either get victory points or a special power.

The heavier part of the game comes in the choices you can make. Players only start with seven legionaries to cover symbols with. They need to choose which cards to finish first, may need to choose to move legionaries, and when they finish an objective they choose which new objectives they want. Completed objective cards work together to give players more points, extra legionaries, or even take away the other players progress.

Augustus offers a nice balance of easy rules and game play with a deeper strategy to keep any level of gamer interested.

5. Formula D

Formula D takes roll and move games to a whole new level. Players are racing their cars around the track by rolling dice. Everyone want to be the first to the finish to win the race. Sounds easy right? It is, but it wouldn't be on this list if that was all.

Formula D requires lucky die rolls, and a bit of planning. The cars are not automatic, so players need to switch gears during the race. This is done through different size dice. Players may stay in the same gear, or switch gears up or down. They need to roll the best die for the situation. Be extra careful on the corners. Depending on the sharpness of the corner, you will need to stop once, twice, or even three times. If a player, is not careful they will damage their car and possibly even leave debris on the track. A car can become so damaged it cannot complete the race.

Adding the different dice and the need to stop on corners takes the classic mechanic of roll and move and revives it in an incredibly fun game. Add the vast amount of different tracks available and the illegal street racing from the base game and you will have hours of Formula D excitement.

Card Games

Most of these games involve a deck of cards and maybe a few other components. They aren't your traditional card games like UNO or solitaire, but they can all be enjoyed by the family and are easy to learn. They are also very portable making them easy to take to a holiday gathering.

1. Spot It

Spot It! makes a great stocking stuffer for young and old alike. If you like speed or pattern recognition, this is the game for you. The circular Spot It! cards has eight different size symbols in varying sizes. It is pretty amazing when you think about it, but any two Spot It! cards have exactly one symbol in common.

The game does come with rules for a few different ways to play the game. In the base game each player is given one card and one central card is revealed. Players try to be the first to "spot" the symbol on their card with a revealed card. Whoever calls the common symbol first claims the card. A new card is revealed and play continues. When the last card is claimed whomever has the most cards wins the game.

Spot It! is a game that any age can play an age doesn't really matter. There are also so many different versions that you will likely find a theme to please anyone on your list. And yes, there is even a Frozen version!

2. Love Letter

Love Letter manages to take only sixteen cards and create a game that can be played over and over. The theme of the game is that the young men of the Kingdom of Tempest are vying for the hand of the princess. But she has locked herself in the place and the only way to reach her is by sending the romantic letter through the palace workers. But, at the same time you need to stoop the other suitors' letters from reaching her.

Each player starts with just one card, and of the sixteen one is removed. They must rely on their deduction skills and risk the win the hand of the princess. During the game players draw one card and must play one card. They want to expose the other players and remove them from the game. Powerful cards are handy, but make you the target of other players, weaker cards have their uses but they may not win the hand of the princess.

This beautiful game does include player elimination but each play is quick so no one will feel left out for long. Love Letter has been a hit with many groups and has even inspired different versions. So even Batman fans will soon enjoy their own version of Love Letter.

3. Famous Card Games Series

Another series of Games that come in a small package are the six games of the Famous Game Company Sports Games. There are the beginner games Famous Fastballs (Baseball) and Famous Forehands (Tennis). Next are the intermediate level games Famous Fairways (Golf) and Famous Flagships (Sailing). Finally, Famous 500 (Racing) and Famous First Downs (Football), the advanced games, complete the series. Each game is played with only few cards, minimal rules, and in less than thirty minutes. The Famous Games Company Series offers a lot of game play in six different sports and for a fantastic price. For less than the price of a quality board game your can get six different card games. You can also choose your favorites separately.

The Famous Games Company Series offers a lot of game play in six different sports and for a fantastic price. For less than the price of a quality board game your can get six different card games or choose your favorites separately. These card games are perfect for the sports fan of the family and you would be supporting an amazing company. For more information on all the Famous Games, How to Play tutorials, designer Rob’s blog and more check out the website at: http://www.famousgames.co/. Also check out some of the newer offerings at the website. I'm really intrigued by his Pocket sized sports dice games.

4. Diamonds

Trick-taking games like Bridge, Euchre and Hearts are a favorite of many a family member. Diamonds carries along that tradition, but adds a twist. The game plays like other trick taking games were player's lead with a card and others must follow suite if possible. The twist is that players may take "Suit Actions" based on what suit they play. Suit actions are taken when a player cannot follow a suit. The winner of the suit, the one who played the highest card, gets a suit action. Players are also collecting "diamond crystals" as they take suit actions. These will be placed in their vault or the showroom.

The winner leads a card to start the next trick. After a full Round of ten tricks, whoever has taken the most cards in each suit once again gets a Suit Action. If a player has taken no tricks, that player gets two Diamonds Suit Actions. Players then start a new round.

Different suit actions let players take Diamond Crystals from the Supply, moving them to their showroom or their vault. Diamonds in the showroom score 1 point and can be taken by other players. Diamonds in the vault score two points and cannot be taken by other players. Whoever has the most Diamond crystals at the end wins the game.

The suits of the game are the standard club, hearts, spades and diamonds. The artwork is a very nice art deco style. Admittedly I have never understood or really enjoyed trick-taking games but family members do enjoy the games. But Diamonds is different, makes sense. Diamonds is a quick, strategic, and understandable trick-taking game. It will have wide appeal to many players.

5. Battle Line

Battle Line was one of the first modern card games I learned to play. In this two-player game, players form two different battle lines on the table. They are trying to win flags, either by winning 5 of the 9 flags or by winning three flags in a row. They do this in a poker style game play. To win a flag players must place cards similar to 3 of a kind, flush, straight flush, etc. The highest formation wins and they take the flag to their side.

There are also tactics cards players may choose to take on their turn. These give players an advantage on the battlefield. The rules to Battle Line are simple and easy to teach. The depth of the game comes in the strategic game play. You need to survey the whole battlefield and be aware of what your opponent is doing. Battle Line is a modern classic and a great edition to any collection.

Party Games

Party games are great icebreakers, family bonding experiences, and ways to pass the time with friends and loved ones. These games may involve some loud noises, laughter, and memory making opportunities.

1. One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Werewolf has been a favorite game in my classroom for many years. Students enjoy the secret identity game, special power game where they try to discover who the big bad werewolves are. Or they want to stay hidden as they take out their opponents.

However, the game can take a lot of time to play, eliminated players cannot participate, and I always have to moderate. One Night Ultimate Werewolf solves all of these problems. The game is only one night, and lasts only 10 minutes. Only one person is eliminated but at the end of the game. There is no moderator, but you can download a free app to act as moderator. I highly recommend the app; it really makes the game that much better.

The game makes great changes, but the best parts remain. The classic deduction and trying to figure out what other players know or do not know. If you like deduction, games like mafia or werewolf you will love One Night.

2. Pitch Car

Whenever I set it up, PitchCar is a game that draws a crowd. Pitch Car is a dexterity game with a modular racetrack board. Players pitch their cars, by flicking them around the track. The first player to cross the finish line wins!

PitchCar is not the cheapest game to buy, or the easiest to find, the fun and lasting quality of the game are worth it. I love setting up different racetrack configurations. Adding expansions gives your even more options in creating your racetrack.

Young and old alike can get into the action with PitchCar. Just start setting it up and before you finish you'll have your crowd of players.

3. Dancing Eggs

Another dexterity game that gets both kids and adults moving is Dancing Eggs. The game comes with nine rubbery plastic eggs, one wooden egg, and two wooden dice. The components are great and they all come in an egg carton. Even after many plays, the components look brand new, even if the carton will not hold up very long.

*Note: the game comes with only two dice

Players roll the red die. The result of the die tells the player what to do. They can attempt to take an egg from the box, or from another player if there are none in the box. They may bounce the egg on the table and compete to catch it. Or they may run around the table and try to get back to their seat before everyone else.

When a player wins and egg, they then roll the white die to see where t the egg will go. They may put it under their chin, between their knees, in the crook of their arm, or even under their cheek. You have to hold your eggs, try not to drop them, because the game ends when someone drops, and egg. Players get points for their eggs; one point for the rubber eggs and two points for the wooden egg.

The game is harder than it looks, but every time it played, there is always laughter. Dancing Eggs is a great party game that anyone in the family can enjoy.

4. Tapple

Tapple is fun, all be it stressful party game I actually picked up at Target. A player is given ten seconds and a topic. Within those ten seconds, they come up with a word that matches the topic and press down on the letter key that matches the first letter of the word. For example, you may press down on the "S" key if you say sausage as a pizza topping. The next player restarts the timer, says a different word, for example "Cheese" and presses down their letter. If a player runs out of time before pressing a letter, they are out of the round. When only one player is left in the round the get the topic cad and start a new round. Whoever collects the most topic cards wins!

I was not sure about Tapple but it is a lot of fun. My mother-in-law really enjoyed it and made a good point that not only are players enjoying themselves but also they are exercising their brains (she is a retired teacher). Players are trying to come up with answers and be ready when their turn comes so they are always engaged in the game. Tapple is great party game for the whole family. As a bonus, it is completely self-contained as the device on a storage compartment for the cards.

5. Snake Oil

Do you have any salesperson in the family or anyone who is good at convincing others? Well, then Snake Oil is for them. In this party game players take on the role of snake oil salespersons from the old west and try to convince their customers to buy their wacky products.

One player, each round, becomes a customer. They choose a card and become that type of customer for example - a teacher, soldier, coach potato, or a dictator. The other players become inventors and use two of their six cards to create a product and then within thirty seconds pitch it to the customer. For example, they may sell a cannon map to the soldier or the glitter paint to the teacher. Whomever the customer decides to buy from gets the card.

Snake oil is all about fun and using your imagination. People who enjoy "Apples to Apples" will enjoy the added layer of "convincing" the customer to buy your invention. Players can really get into the game as they try to outdo each other and win the customers vote.

Teenager and Adult Games

My new category this year is Teenager and Adult Games. These games are a bit more complicated than my Family Games list and may include scarier or more historical themes. The games are more challenging and sometimes involve direct player conflict.

1. 1775: Rebellion

I am not usually a fan of war games, but something about 1775 really drew me in since the first time I saw it. The game comes from the incredible company Academy Games. Players are either the Continental Army and the Patriots or the British and the Loyalists. Both sides are trying to control the colonies, provinces, and territories of North America. With three or more players, the players form teams with one player controlling one of the main factions. The Native Americans, German Hessians and the French may come to the aid of the players.

Through the use of strategic card play and movement players gain or lose control of the colonies. Battles are quickly resolved through the use of custom dice and when a player controls and entire colony or territory they place a flag. The game ends when the Treaty of Paris is signed. Whichever side has managed to place the most flags wins.

1775: Rebellion has solid game play, amazing components, and the game length just right. It's a game that families can play together, school children can use as a fun way to learn about the beginning of the American Revolution, and couples can enjoy as a light war game. Luck and card draws may keep heavy war gamers away but even they can enjoy the blend of Euro and thematic game mechanics. It a game that I know will stay in my collection based on theme, fun factor, and ease of play.

2. Arcadia Quest

Arcadia Quest is the newest game in my collection, but quickly becoming a favorite. This dungeon crawl adventure is a campaign style board game where each player controls three unique heroes trying to reclaim the city of Arcadia. They face not only the monsters that have taken over the city but the other players as well. Each quest players accomplish levels up their characters with better equipment and abilities. Beware; the monsters get better as well.

The components and artwork are outstanding and the game play is solid. Arcadia Quest takes the basic game play of other dungeon crawls and streamlines them. The monsters only react to what players do; they don't have their own turn. Players’ unique abilities are straightforward and easy to understand. There is also a fun "exploding dice" mechanic, which allows players to gain more hits per turn. All of this makes for a quicker; more start forward dungeon crawl distilled down into the most fun elements. There are also many great "how to play videos" that make it easy to learn the game.

3. Quantum

Space themes are popular and it is not always easy to tell which will be good or even great games. The beautiful components, artwork, and dice manipulation of Quantum really drew me to the game.

Each die represents a starship in the players fleet. The number of the die, determines the ship type. Sixes are quick, but won't hold up in battle. Ones are great in battles, but very slow. Each ship also has a special power that can be used once per turn.

Quantum reminds me of chess as players maneuver their ships into the exactly the right position. When they do they may place their Quantum cubes on the board. At the same time they must balance movement and placing with the need to research. Research allows players to gain valuable skills, such as free movement abilities or better abilities in battle. Of course players must watch out for, and battle the opponents. The first player to place all their quantum cubes wins.

The rules are simple, but the strategy is deep in Quantum. This actually surprised me when I first played. I think I was expecting to have a much harder time learning how to play the game. Instead I found learning to play easy, but understanding the strategy will develop with more plays. This is what makes Quantum fantastic.

4. Splendor

Okay, I admit, I was a little turned off by Splendor when I first heard of it. I was thinking it was another Eurogame, so much like the others. I really did not understand the hype.... but then I played it, and know I understand.

Splendor is an absolutely beautiful game. The artwork on the cards is beautiful. I really like looking at the cards during the game. The gem tokens and so nice to hold and look at. These are really amazing poker chips, that aren't needed but add a fun factor to the game. The rules for Splendor are easy to learn and teach. As with many great games, the difficulty comes from the strategy.

Splendor is a joy to play. The Theme of Splendor is that players are Renaissance merchants buying gem mines, means of transportation, and gem shops. I really enjoy the engine building aspect of Splendor as you obtain gem chips and cards that help you get even higher value cards or help you catch the eye of nobles who may stop by your shop.

Splendor is a game that you can quickly teach, but each new play will be rewarding as you learn more and more about the games strategy.

5. Star Realms

Earlier I said that while the space theme is popular so you should not be surprised I have another space-themed game on the list. Star Realms is a two player, space combat, deck-building game that is both affordable and portable. If you want to add more players, just add a second deck!

In Star Realms, player has a personal deck of cards to represent their space armada. Each turn they try to gain trade, combat, authority, and other important powerful effects with their cards. Players are trying to build up their armada in order to reduce their opponent’s score (Authority) to zero.

Star Realms offers simple rules, stunning graphics, gorgeous artwork, faction specific card synergies, and a fun player versus player combat system. There is even a free app you can download that teaches you the game and lets you try before you buy.

Happy Gaming and Happy Holidays!

Picture Credits: W. Eric Martin (W. Eric Martin), Marc Gilutin (apecage), Paul Paterson (kaylex), Michelle Zentis (caesarmom), Justin Case (Gambiteer), Jon Enns (jayboy), Bob Rob (Najak), Henk Rolleman (henk.rolleman), Andres Rueff (Rixxar), François + Daphné (Camdin), Tiffany Bahnsen (tibahn), W. Eric Martin (W. Eric Martin)(2), Edward Bolme (edbolme), Henk Rolleman (henk.rolleman), Rob Bartel (RobBartel)(2), Stephen Buonocore (evilone)(2), Neven Rihtar (nrihtar2), Tim Mossman (IronMoss), Mikko Saari (msaari), W. Eric Martin (W. Eric Martin), Ernie Lai (laiernie), Christian Rehm (christianrehm), Alexandre Carvalho (aleacarv), Brian Mayer (bmayer), W. Eric Martin (W. Eric Martin), Dan Edelen (edelen), Max Winter Osterhaus (mmaaaxx)(2), Jeph Stahl (jstahl), Chris Norwood (kilroy_locke), Thiago Aranha (Loophole Master), Jonathan (JJWonderboy), Philippe Nouhra (Funforge) (2), W. Eric Martin (W. Eric Martin), Henk Rolleman (henk.rolleman), Henry Allen (KlydeFrog), Vito Gesualdi (VitoGesualdi)

Thanks for sharing your great pictures!
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Tue Dec 2, 2014 9:40 pm
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Origins 2014 - The Whirlwind Tour

Kristen McCarty
United States
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Origins Game Fair in Columbus Ohio is always a highlight of the beginning of summer. Origins lasts for five stays, starting on Wednesday and ending Sunday. Usually my husband and I try to spend a night or two, to really get the feel of the convention. This year, due to various reason, like being a bridesmaid in a wedding, (Congratulations Doug & Jessica!) we were only able to spend to go on Sunday.

While Origins is not the biggest convention, there is a lot to see and do. I would not recommend only coming one day if you want to see everything! This year the vendor hall was packed, Exhibit Hall D was full of companies demoing games and the Board Game Library, there were plenty of events to take part in. Even for a Sunday, the place was busy. Everyone seemed to be in great moods even after four days. They were still excited about sharing their games and their stories.

With our limited time we concentrated on the dealer hall and focused our attention on a few games and companies we really wanted to see.

We first started at Iello Games. This is always a exciting both to visit. It is so colorful and inviting. I usually drawn to the artwork of Iello games, but my husband caught me off guard and I thought we might be checking out “King of New York” when we headed there. He surprised me with a game “Heroes of Normandie.” I admit that I haven’t heard much about this game, but my husband was very interested. We were given a quick description of the game and we able to look at the components. Iello was only giving demos in Hall D. It seems that a lot of companies are not doing demos in the Exhibitor Hall, only in Hall D. I haven’t yet decided if this is a good or bad move.

Even without a demo, which truthfully would have taken too much time, I was impressed with “Heroes of Normandie” and we decided to take a copy home with us. I liked the idea that it is the “Hollywood” version of WWII. I have many of the more serious WWII games. I look forward to playing it.

I really do feel like I have been living only within the halls of my high school and the track. Spring is my busiest season and I have little time left over for my favorite hobby. This year was the worst and I really felt out of the loop at Origins. Luckily school is over for a few months and I have a wonderful husband who has kept up with everything. I have to really think him for being on top of things and directing us to the highlight!

There was a lot to see, like the giant Krosmaster from Japanime Games and the Giant Tsuro. Plus lots of small publishers, game stores, and dice companies. Of course we made our annual stop of Chessex to pick up our favorite game upgrade: dice.

Another company I really admire is Academy Games and we soon made our way to their booth. Last year we were able to talk to the Eickert family and learn about their dedication to their company, their games, and the hobby. I was very impressed with with 1775: Rebellion last year and wanted to check out Freedom: The Underground Railroad. Others must have been impressed with 1775 as well because it won Best Historical Board Game and Fan Favorite in this years Origins Awards.

Freedom is a cooperative game where players are conductors on the Underground Railroad trying to help slaves escape from Southern Plantations. We did play a few rounds of the game and I was able to talk to Academy’s plans to partner with a textbook company to use Freedom as part of the curriculum. As a history teacher, this little tidbit got me very excited. I do not currently teach American History but see the value of using 1775, 1812, and Freedom in the classroom. I’ll be looking for more information on this in the future and we start looking at new American history textbooks in the next few years I’ll keep this in mind.

Sharing the both with Academy Games was Mercury Games. I didn’t know much about it but “The Capitals” caught my eye. I love tile-laying games and city building games and the artwork and this game really intrigued me. It is beautiful and I really like the idea of moving through time to build up your city. It does remind me of Suburbia, but there seems to be enough different about it that it can find a home in our collection. So “The Capitals” became our typical unplanned Origins purchase of 2014.

While it seems historical games seem to be the main theme of Origins for us, so we stopped by at a new publisher at Origins Lost Battalion Games. Their game Sergeants Miniatures is one of those serious war games I enjoy. We talked briefly with Deb Billings about her experience at Origins so far and she was very pleased with her experience and people seemed to be getting to know about their great games. I am really enjoyed getting to know the Billings and Lost Battalion. Jeff took a lot of time a few years ago to teach us the game at the World Board Gaming Championships. Since then, every time I see them they are always remember us and greet us with such warm welcomes. This is another company that really cares about the quality of their games. I hope they continue to do well and grow as people discover this great game.

Last year at Origins, I was able to preview Star Realms from another new exhibitor at Origins White Wizard Games. I was really impressed with this deck builder and wasn’t surprised it had a successful Kickstarter. What I have been surprised by was how much it has exceeded my expectations. The price point and theme are really big selling points. The amazing game play is another. I love the faction interactions in this game and really look forward to trying to finished version. I see a bright future for Star Realms and encourage lots of people to check out this great little deck builder.

Tired from all the serious games we encountered at this years convention we ended our Origins trip with the “Fantasy sport of Total Domination” Kaosball. This game is just plain fun. We played a few rounds with the very nice representative from Cool Mini or Not. I neglected to get his name, but he was so nice and very helpful in answering all our questions at the tail end of Origins. The game is beautiful and really makes me wish I could paint minis and the game play is pure silly fun. One of the advantages of going to is being able to pick up newer games, their expansions and promos you may have a hard time finding elsewhere. The Malltown Zombies were a Kickstarter and convention exclusive only team and it was free with purchase of Kaosball. I’m not a zombie fan, but have friends who are so it was a great addition to our collection. So Kaosball is another game I look forward to learning and playing.

It was certainly an abbreviated view of Origins this year, and I wish we had more time to stay. But we made the most of our time and got to talk to a lot of great people. As has come to be a theme of Origins, the people in this hobby amaze me. The publishers, the designers, the podcasters, and the players really make this hobby great. If you have never gone, make your way to Columbus next year and spend some time in this great atmosphere. If you have already been, continue to visit and support this great convention. I already can’t wait till next year.

Picture Credits(from boardgamegeek.com) : yann uhart, Brian Mayer, Kevin Nesbitt, Art DeFilippo, Henry Allen, W. Eric Martin
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Tue Jun 17, 2014 12:58 am
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My 2013 Family Board Game Gift Guide

Kristen McCarty
United States
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Some of my favorite memories of the family holidays are playing board and card games. I remember the many hours spent playing "War" and "Slap Jack" with my brothers and sisters at my Great Aunt's house. And while these are simple games it was something I looked forward to as a child. Games bring families together and the holidays are a great time to try some new games with loved ones and friends.

A friend of my mother-in-law asked for some recommendations for games for a family ranging in age from 7 to adult. She wanted games that the youngest to oldest could enjoy. My husband and I put this list together and I decided to share it in case anyone else would be interested. I know there are a lot of holiday gift guides out there. I hope to give you some different ideas with this mix of games. I tried to keep the games simple; with rules that are easy to read and understand. Each category has five games. Many of these games won't be found at your big box stores. Target and Barnes and Noble do offer a good selection, but if you can't find the game there try Amazon or other online game stores. Of course your friendly local game store is another great place to look. Shop local!

Family Games

Games in this category are geared to the whole family being able to participate. Children below 7 may need a partner to help them. The Themes have a wide appeal and the rules are easy to learn.

1. Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is one of the first "gamers games" that I learned to play, and it is still a favorite. The rules are simple, the components amazing, and the strategy a blast. There are many versions out there. New versions seem to be made every year. I would suggest starting with the North America version, or whatever country you are most familiar with, and then trying out the others most interesting to you.

In Ticket to Ride players are collecting card of different colors to claim railway routes. Players have secret routes, or Destination Tickets, they are trying to complete while earning the most points along the way. The longer the route the more points you can score. The player who scores the most wins.

Ticket to Ride is a wonderful game and always a hit with everyone I play it with. And it has become a holiday tradition to play the Nordic Nations version with its snow theme sometime during our Christmas break. Regrettably, that version is only three players. If you do buy the original Ticket to Ride I suggest also picking up the 1910 expansion for the bigger cards and extra scoring options.

2. Carcassonne

Carcassonne is also one of the first games I played when I got into the hobby. And, like Ticket to Ride has many, many versions and expansions. Again more seem to come out every year! I also suggesting starting out with the original version and adding from there. Many expansions are very small and only add a few tiles.

The theme for Carcassonne comes from its namesake, a walled city in Southern France. The tiles feature scenes from the city and the surrounding countryside. It is a tile-placement game where players draw and play one tile on their turn. There are city pieces, roads, grassland, or monasteries on the tiles. Tiles can also have a picture such as having both a road and a city. Players put the tiles together so that sides match, road to road, city to city, much like a puzzle. Meeples, the wooden people pieces, are placed on the tiles to score points. Players may try to complete a city, build a road, farm the fertile soil around the city, or completely surround a monastery to score points. Players must choose wisely as they place their meeples or choose the not place the meeple. The supply is limited, and only when a meeple scores, does the owner get it back.

I know I love tile-laying games, but Carcassonne is one of the best for families. It is beautiful, fun, and easy to learn. The meaningful choices and risk keep older children interested and the easy rules means even younger children can play. Farmer scoring can be confusing for new players. It is okay to not use the farmers your first few games. Just add add them in once you get the basics down. Of course, by then you might want to add some of the many expansions to keep the game fresh. And, like Ticket to Ride, there is a new Winter Edition available.

3. Qwirkle / Qwirkle Cubes

Qwirkle is an abstract game, or a game with minimal luck and very little theme. Chess, is an example of an abstract game. In Qwirkle players are using wooden blocks with one of six shapes and colors on it. The first player will place as many blocks with a single matching shape or color as they can. Then, the other players place blocks next to at least one previously played block. Placed blocks must all be placed in a line and match, without duplicating, the color or shape of the other blocks in the line. You score points for each placed block and all blocks adjacent. You can even score in more than one direction. Bonus points are awarded when you complete a line of all six colors shapes.

Qwirkle is a great game for families, but younger children may need some help to play. It has won many awards including the Spiel des Jahres, or the German Board Game of the Year. It is light and fast to play, but offers a lot of strategy and decision-making. I personally prefer Qwirkle Cubes, where the pieces have six sides, all the same color, but different shapes. You get to roll them before your turn. Yes, it adds some randomness to the game, but I think it makes it more interesting.

4. Zooloretto

Taking the family to see the monkeys, zebras, and tigers at the zoo is a great way to bond as a family. Another great way to bond is by playing Zooloretto. Players are trying to build the best zoo to attract visitors while avoiding taking too many of the same animal and running out of room. The rules are simple and the theme appealing to almost anyone. The deeper strategies and having to know what your opponents are doing may mean younger players will need some help. Zooloretto has also won the Speil des Jahres and has many expansions to add if players enjoy the game.

5. Fauna

Keeping with the animal theme, the last game for this category is Fauna. This game is very different from Zooloretto. In Fauna, players are looking at a single animal each turn. All they see of the animal is its name and picture. Players are trying to guess the animals weight, length, height, tail length, or the areas where it lies. Sounds simple, right? It is, until you play and have to guess just how long an Asian Elephants tail is or where in the world you can find a Beluga Whale.

Players get points for guessing correctly but lose tokens temporarily when they are put into the wrong areas. It can be risky to guess if you aren't absolutely sure. While this is an educational game, it is amazingly fun. Animals lovers will enjoy testing their knowledge and anyone can have fun guessing how much a ferret weighs. It is great for families and people who don't normally enjoy board games because all you have to do is guess and place your blocks on the correct spaces.

Card Games

Most of these games involve a deck of cards and maybe a few other components. They aren't your traditional card games like UNO or solitaire, but they can all be enjoyed by the family and are easy to learn. They are also very portable making them easy to take to a holiday gathering.

1. No Thanks

All that comes with the game is a deck of cards and some chips. Players win by scoring the least amount of points. The cards are numbered 3 to 35 and each card count points equal to their face value. On a player's turn they can either play a chip to avoid taking the current face-up card or pick up the card, and any chips that may be on it. Runs of cards only count as the lowest card value. So if you have 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 you only score 20 points. Chips are worth -1 at the end of the game. Runs may be hard to get not only because other players may take the card you need and you never know exactly what numbers will show up during the game. Before the games starts a set number of cards are taken out of the deck.

No Thanks is a quick, push your luck game, which can be enjoyed by the whole family. It can help younger family members count! Deciding to take a card or using a chip can be a harder decision to make then you think! Plus games are so fast that even if you lose big one game, and I have, you can try again in a few minutes.

2. For Sale

For Sale, our next game, is all about buying real estate for low prices and selling it for the highest price possible. The player with the most money wins! It is played in two phases, which makes it an easy game to teach and learn. Learn one phase at a time. First you have an auction for the houses and when all the houses are bought, you sell them for the highest profit. It's quick, light, and so much fun when you realize you just bought the outhouse for 5,000 dollars and sold it for zero profit, or your bargain castle just sold for the most money possible.

3. Timeline Series

The history teacher in me loves Timeline not only as a family game but also as an educational tool. The fun is a definite plus! As you play the game you build a timeline. Players want to be the first to play all their cards in the correct chronological order. Each card is double-sided showing the picture of the invention / event / or discovery on side with the date on the other. Players need to place the card in chronological order of the timeline. If they are correct it stays if they are wrong, it is discarded and players draw a new card.

I enjoy playing games that test my knowledge and sometimes my guessing skills. It isn't always easy to remember if Morse Code was invented before the corkscrew! Younger players may have a harder time because they may not be as familiar with the dates or inventions. Team play may be a better option for them. I have used this game in my classroom, with adult friends, and with my family. It can be a bit of a brain burner as you try to remember when the submarine was first invented, but it is all in good fun and a great family activity.

4. Incan Gold

In Incan Gold, players are explores searching an old temple for gold and treasure. The player with the most treasure wins the game. Each round the players must choose to either face the dangers inside the temple or leave with the riches in hand. If the dangers is too great and players are still in the temple they flee leaving all their treasure behind. Leaving too early may mean leaving with too little treasure but waiting too long may mean no treasure at all.

Incan Gold if a fun, push your luck game, where players can be cautious or adventurous. The rules are simple, the components beautiful, the game play quick, and laughter always abounds as players face the dangerous spiders only to lose all their treasure or strike it rich.

5. Super Circles

Super Circles is a fast paced game where players are trying to get rid of all their cards before the other players. Players need to place cards by matching the colored rings on the previously played card. There are no turns and players try to match cards as quickly as they can. The rings must match in both position and color.

Super Circles is a speed game and some people will just be much better at it than others. I have had mixed reactions to this game and people either love it or are indifferent. So families who like speed will enjoy the game. It is also easy for younger children to play and they may even better than the adults. It reminds me of all those Slap Jack games we played as children.

Party Games

Party games are great icebreakers, family bonding experiences, and ways to pass the time with friends and loved ones. These games may involve some loud noises, laughter, and memory making opportunities.

1. Dixit (Dixit Odyssey)

Dixit isn't a party game with lots of loud noises and crazy gestures, it is a story telling game where players listen, think and get to be creative. There is still usually a lot of laughter and joking around the table. I love the game and the artwork and want to play it any chance I get. The cards in Dixit are beautiful and surreal. The storyteller gives a clue about their card. It can be a word, sound, phrase, statement, quote, movie title, poem, or so on as long as it describes the card. The other players look at their cards and choose one that best goes wit the clue. These are mixed together and placed in the numbered spaces on the scoreboard.

Players try to guess the storyteller's card. When everyone has voted the players reveals their vote together. The storyteller reveals their card and the round is scored. The trick is for the story teller to not be too obvious with their clue while at the same time not making it too difficult to guess. If all players pick the storyteller's card or if no does, the storyteller scores no points. Each other player scores two points. For any other result, the storyteller scores three points. Every player who chooses the storytellers card scores three points as well. Any card that was voted for, scores one point for its own, to a maximum of three points.

I love the creativity and personalities that come out when you play Dixit. I get to know more about the people I play with as they pick cards and give clues. You also get to know who knows who the best when a player gives a clue that they know at least one player will understand, but probably no one else will. It is a relaxing game where you can let your imagination run wild.

2. Telestrations

Telestrations is another artistic game that reminds me of the game telephone and Pictionary put together. The players are sketching a word chosen from a card within the time limit. Then they pass the book to the next player who writes a guess as to what the picture is. The book is passed again and the player draws the word, the fourth player writes a guess again, the fifth draws a sketch, and the sixth writes the final guess hoping to match the original. With fewer players you just play fewer rounds.

Young and old can enjoy the game and you don't even need to worry about keeping score. Like most party games it is about the experience and those funny moments that you never forget. It is the unpredictable outcomes that make the game fun.

3. Reverse Charades / Reverse Charades Jr.

I love Reverse Charades for its twist on a classic game. Instead of one person acting and everyone else guessing, you reverse the roles: everyone acts while one person guesses. Players get to work together to act out words like Merry-go-Round or Wedding. It is hilarious to watch people slowly warm up to playing together to working together to act out the clues. It is exciting to see a group silently scoring a touchdown with their teammates.

I also enjoy using this game in the classroom for either an icebreaker or even a vocabulary lesson. Students look forward too it and ask for it all the time. Adults can also feel more comfortable when they aren't the only ones making a fool of themselves in front of the group. There is also a junior version available but either version works well. You can take out the more challenging cards from the regular version.

4. Word on the Street / Word on the Street Jr.

Word on the Street can be played on teams or as a single player. Players are trying to claim the tiles from the game board. On the players turn they are given a category such as "something that stretches" and they must come up with a word that matches and then move the tiles in that word toward their side of the board. If the letter isn't on the board it is skipped. If the team is able to move a letter off of the board it is theirs. The first team to move 8 letters off the board wins.

The game is simple, but requires some thinking and spelling ability. It is fun to watch the tug of war over the letters as players compete to win. Because you play as teams even younger players can enjoy the game. They may be the ones to give the word while the older sibling gets to spell it out for them. The junior version includes all the letters of the alphabet.

5. Wits & Wagers Family

Wits and Wagers is a game of guessing and numbers. The family version is geared more towards family play so that is why I would recommend it over the original version. Also the "gambling" element is removed. In Wits and Wagers Family, players are asked a question, they write their guess down (don't worry if you aren't right) and then put them on the table from smallest to largest.

Everyone then places their Meeples on the answers they think are correct. Players get points for placing the meeples on the correct answers and by getting the correct answer. The first player with 15 points wins.

This is a fun trivia game where you don't have to know the answer to enjoy the game. Children may be better at some questions than they adults in this game!

Cooperative Games

Not everyone enjoys competing against others. Don't worry, there are games they can enjoy. These games are called cooperative games. In cooperative board games players are working together rather than individually to win the game. They win or lose as a group. Sometimes the games may introduce a traitor who may be secretly working against the group. Below is the list of my favorite games to play with family / friends.

1. Flash Point Fire Rescue

I love the theme of this first game. Players are firemen and women working together to put out a fire and rescue the people / pets inside. The game offers rules for both a family version and an expert version. The expert version includes special abilities for the rescuers and the ability to drive the Fire Truck. The expert version even offers different levels of difficulty.

Players win if they are able to rescue seven victims from the flames or lose if four victims perish in the fire. I love the dice rolls, the fear of the fire spreading as your try to rescue the victims, and those amazing feats as rescuers battle to flames to bring the 7th victim to safety. Everyone around the table cheers them on, knowing they have just won the game together. It's beautiful production, quality components, theme, and exciting game makes it my favorite cooperative game. The rules can be a bit confusing to read for new players. I suggest playing with someone who knows the game well.

2. Escape: Curse of the Temple

In Escape: Curse of the temple, players are, you guessed it, working together to escape from a cursed temple before it collapses. Everyone escapes, or everyone loses. The game is timed and will last only 10 minutes! If you lose, it is easy to set the game up and try again. It comes with a exciting soundtrack or you can use the sand timer.

During the game players are simultaneously rolling dice and taking actions. The symbols on the dice let you enter a room, reveal new tiles, or discover magic the gems needed to escape. Beware of the black mask and its curse. Until a golden mask is rolled a die with a black mask cannot be used. With only ten minutes to play there may not be a lot of strategy discussion. There will be a lot of chaos, cheering, and shouts as players call for golden dice and run to help other unlock the gems. It can be intense, so play without the timer the first time or with younger players until they understand the basics. Once you have the basics down, the race against the clock opens up an incredible cooperative experience.

3. Forbidden Island / Forbidden Desert

Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert are two cooperative games by designer Matt Leacock. I have not had the opportunity to play Forbidden Desert but the theme of escaping the desert may be more appealing to some people and that I why I included it. Both games are similar, but I'll speak more about Forbidden Island.

I'll start with the beautiful artwork and components of Forbidden Island. They are gorgeous and will definitively draw players into the game. The solid rules and game play make this beautiful game an incredible experience. Players are trying to collect treasures and escape the island before it sinks. As the game progresses the water level rises, making it harder and harder to win the game.

Like many cooperative games, there are varying levels of difficulty to help players first learn the game and then challenge themselves as they become more advanced players. Special player powers give players many options to claim the treasure and escape the island. The strategy is fun to discuss and even younger players can offer valuable thoughts. Plus both games are very affordable and can be found for around twenty dollars or less.

4. Pandemic

Pandemic is another game by Matt Leacok, but the more difficult rules and larger scale makes it more appropriate for older children and adults. In Pandemic diseases are spreading around the world and players must work together to treat and research cures for the diseases.

Players must travel around the work to treat infected people, build research stations, and discover cures. Every turn players must spread the diseases and watch out for the Epidemic cards and outbreaks that spread the diseases more quickly.

If one or more diseases spread beyond recovery the players lose. If they can cure the four diseases they win.

The theme of curing diseases will bring in players. Who doesn't want to save the world? Only by working together can players defeat the diseases and cure the world. Winning the games isn't easy and you will not win every play. This is what makes the games so great, winning is a time for celebration and congratulations for a game well played.

5. Shadows Over Camelot

The first cooperative game I played was Shadows Over Camelot. Players are Knights of the Round Table who must work together to complete different quests. For example they will need to defeat the Black Knight, find the Holy Grail, or claim Excalibur. Completed quests place white swords on the Round Table and failed quests place black swords. Too many black swords and Camelot will fall and the players will lose. The Knights also face invasions for siege engines and barbaric tribes. Too many siege engines will also cause Camelot to fall. But if players can gain the majority of white swords Camelot will be saved.

The Theme, the beautiful high quality components, and various quests make Shadows Over Camelot a family favorite. The game also introduces the possibility of a traitor into the cooperative game. So players may start to wonder if one of their own is working against them. The multiple quests and ways to win white swords let players play to their and their knights strengths. The game is easy to learn, but mastering and pulling out a win isn't easy.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Picture Credits: Users from www.boardgamegeek.com: Fawkes, Jeff Goris(slith), Big Woo (BigWoo), Robert Hawkins (Goshawk), Ted Alspach (toulouse), Henk Rolleman (henk.rolleman),Gábor Iványosi-Szabó (Artax), Daniel Ott (elSchwabo), Chris Norwood (kilroy_locke), FoxMind Canada (FoxMindGames), dV Giochi (dVGiochi), Zev Shlasinger (Zman), Erwin Pauelsen (Erwinner), Justin Case (Gambiteer), Ender Wiggins (EndersGame), François + Daphné (Camdin), Antony Hemme (Toynan), Rafal Szczepkowski (cnidius), Steve Holden (l10n0fjudah), Fred CS (Gryphon Eagle), Bee (boardgamefreak2009), W. Eric Martin (W Eric Martin), Digger Cook (BGDigger), W. Eric Martin (W Eric Martin), Bee (boardgamefreak2009), Mike Amos (amosmj), W. Eric Martin (W Eric Martin), Bryce Porter (bvp3us), Jae Ha Woo (unfathomable), Dominic Crapuchettes (domcrap), Leah Sugar (Ohaus82), Ender Wiggins (EndersGame), Travis Worthington (T Worthington), Noel Llopis (llopis), François + Daphné (Camdin), Henk Rolleman (henk.rolleman), kirby g (keebie), W. Eric Martin (W Eric Martin), Henk Rolleman (henk.rolleman), W. Eric Martin (W Eric Martin), Jeffery Bowling (hrc333), Eric Hautemont (Erich), shera wang (viper_1)

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Wed Dec 4, 2013 10:48 pm
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