Board in the Stacks: Harvest

img_1245Harvest is a fantasy themed farming game for 2-4 players which plays in about 45 minutes. Players take the role of a character with unique abilities (or beginners can take a standard, dull old peon farmer) and need to get to work early to plant, nurture and harvest their crops. Additionally, you can construct buildings and expand your fields. This is a small box but pleasantly chunky game with minimal rules overhead with its tongue placed firmly in cheek. While seemingly lite at first glance, players are provided with a comfortable decision place and beginners may want a play or two to get into the flow of the game.

Overview:

Harvest, at it’s core, is a standard farming game with an additional layer of fantasy applied on top. For me, this fantasy wash doesn’t add or detract from the play experience – it is just window dressing. While beginners are recommended to play the “standard” character – Wil Plantsomdill, the peasant – to start, there are nine other characters that provide a variety of starting resources, special abilities, and game end scoring modifications. It is worth mentioning that there is a nice variety of body, gender, and cultural options. I also appreciate that the “standard” character – Wil – has a victory point “subsidy” at the end of the game which makes it accessible to new players.

The game is played over five rounds. During set-up there is a market of Initiative Cards. Each card has a number and provides a bonus. At the beginning of a round, players, in turn order, pick an initiative card. Players take the bonus and the turn order is established for the upcoming round.

Each round, players will place two workers in order to gain (sometimes with a cost) seeds and various items (poo and elixirs), plant/tend/harvest crops, expand their farm, or plow fields to ready them for planting.  The Town Board houses most of these action and is divided into three sections – Labor Market to harvest, plant, or tend; General Store to gain or purchase seeds and items; and the Land Office to expand your farm, plow fields and build.  The first players to place in a section can pick two actions/items with subsequent placement only gaining one action/item. Additionally, there are buildings and action cards that provide some variety of those actions at once but often with a cost of stars.

Stars?

Each seed has a star value which determines the amount of fertilizer needed to plant it. When the appropriate amount of poo is paid, the seed tiles are flipped to their crop side and placed on an open field space. Each crop also has a star value which determines the amount of water needed to tend the crop tile and add another of the same crop to the field. Each field has four spaces and can only hold one type of crop at a time. Players then need to harvest crops, removing the crop tile from the field.

The star value of the harvested crops can be used as points for the end of the game or as an in-game currency to gain fancier seeds, build new buildings, and take special actions. This is one element of Harvest I found particularly engaging. In order to grow your farm and gain more specialized abilities, you need to spend your hard earned victory points.

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Review:

Harvest is a tight little game. With only 2 actions per round and 5 rounds, players have a measly 10 actions to make their farm prosper. So each action has to *really* count. For a worker-placement, the placement part is fairly relaxed. Most spots can’t be blocked and every turn will have a variety of possible placements.

While the core of the mechanisms are basic; the random action cards revealed each round, the variable initiative cards, and having victory points serve as the only in-game currency, your overarching strategy tends to change abruptly. It is all about the tactics. The initiative cards provide a nice balance between larger bonuses and getting that coveted first placement. Several times, when playing, I’ve succumbed to the temptation of a huge bonus and altered my plans to grab a higher initiative card and let my strategy unfold while literally rolling in poo. The choice of initiative cards at the start of each round is easily the most exciting part of the game.

Without this system of initiative, Harvest would be lackluster. In most games with a variable turn order, there is a cost associated with going first. You may bid or pay outright in order to go first. Or it is determined by your score, allowing people in the back a chance to catch-up. But Harvest is different. By balancing out the bonus with going initiative, players always get something. It always feels like you are getting something extra. Maybe a burst of plenty with a veritable cornucopia of resources or maybe it is JUST THE THING (TM) you needed and that plus going first is just perfect. Either way, it is a great way of redistributing resources, providing incentive to change up a strategy, and changes the turn order in a thematic and engaging way. Also it feels good. It is the literal opposite of how Agricola makes you feel.

One thing that really became apparent after a few plays was the double-edged nature of the building market. Intuitively, one thinks that new buildings would always be the way to go but I’ve found that the payoff for those buildings, unless they really mesh with your strategy, is low. The pacing of the game doesn’t vary at all. With only 10 actions during the game there is very little time to build an engine. Instead it is a mad rush to efficiently use each one of those turns.

The play experience of Harvest is simple. Do you stay steady and toil through or do you call an audible and change everything due to the sudden appearance of a new card? It provides plenty of decisions within a short playing time. I didn’t want to like Harvest after playing Harbor (which I didn’t enjoy) but Harvest did a good job of provided a large amount of variability within a 30-45 minute game. Unique player characters, each with special abilities and starting resources, revealed action cards, and a varied initiative turn order ensures a different game for multiple plays.

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State of the Library! Collection Maintenance and Culling

Today I’m going to discuss the unpopular topic of collection maintenance. How, when, and why does my library remove board games from our collection.

Space is always limited in a library. While I hope nontraditional collections in the library have an opportunity to grow and expand, I understand that eventually it’ll butt up against available space and other collections. When that happens we have to start culling. Your standard collection development policy may help with this. My original collection development policy (you can see a bit of it in my post on CAH) didn’t originally include information on how I would weed and deaccession items from the board game collection because I never expected it to grow to the size it is. However, here we are.

Nontraditional collections tend to fade over time due to lack of interest and reduced investment. At first, when grant money is plentiful and everything is shiny and new the collection is maintained. But three years later you end up with 50+ dinged up cake pans choking up the 600s because no-one wants them or knows what to do with them. No-one is willing to develop the collection to the current need. To avoid this and keep the circulating board game collection new and relevant, I allocate around $100 a month from my general materials budget on purchasing new board games. This is just enough to keep new material floating in, allowing me to experiment on new and emerging game styles, add duplicates of popular games, and stay open to patron requests. All without blowing out what little space I have.

My dedicated space is limited to about 25 games on a gridwork mobile display originally used for VHS tapes. With half of my collection of 50 games circulating at any one time, it means that I’m coming close to my first culling of non-performing items. In order to do this, I determine a “rating score” for each game and check the circulation statistics quarterly. Any game that is new (defined by less than six months in circulation) is exempt from culling. They are still finding their audience. They are safe.

Others, however, have the arbitrary metric of averaging one circulation a month to remain relevant in the eyes of the law. Each game has a lending period of one week with one renewal, so this reflects the pace of how our board game collection moves. A longer circulation period of three weeks would not use the same metric. With my collection, one circ a month ensures that majority of the games are performing fine, a small percentage is performing amazingly well (we’ll look at those later) and some are just not making it. If they are averaging less than one circulation a for two straight quarters, they are removed from the collection. I need to move material off the of the shelf to make room for more material and I never want an empty shelf where the board game collection is housed. It ends up being a strange titration. Having only popular games which are constantly circulating ends up with an empty display.

So, an average performing game will have a score of somewhere between 1 and 2. Less than 1 is under-performing (and maybe up for culling) while over 2 is doing great and is barely on the shelf (which helps me determine where the community’s gaming interest lies).

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Sorry Barbara, Chinese Checkers is out.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/simpleinsomnia/25822056086

This quarter I have a few games up for culling.

  1. Small World (.88) – area control, fantasy themed game from Days of Wonder
  2. Happy Pigs (.8) – Farming game from Iello
  3. Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama (.75) – Retheme of the Roll and Write game Avenue from Indie Boards and Cards
  4. Smash Up (.5) – crappy card game from AEG (I have opinions)
  5. Codenames: Disney Edition (.4) – Disney version of the popular word game Codenames

Now that I see which games aren’t circulating well. I also take into consideration individual plays at our board game nights so a game that doesn’t circulate but gets good in-house play will likely remain. For each of these titles, I ask a few questions. First, does the game do something unique within the scope of our current collection development policies. A good example is Kokoro which is a “roll and write” game and the only roll and write game we have in our collection. Since removing this game would remove an entire (arguably, popular) mechanism from the collection, I kept it. However, if I purchase other roll and writes in the future, and Kokoro continues to under-perform, I will likely remove it.

Does the game duplicate mechanisms or themes already held within the collection? Is it a an exact duplicate of another game or within the same family of games (i.e. Ticket to Ride family of games) information already held here or elsewhere in another format? A good example of this is Codenames: Disney Edition. Codenames is, not surprisingly, very popular and circulates well. I included Codenames: Disney Edition thinking that families with younger children would be interested. However, that has not materialized. Since the Codenames: Disney Edition is within the same family of games (Codenames and Codenames: Marvel are already in the collection) and we have other word games (Wordsy, Scrabble, and Bananagrams) which circulate well, Codenames: Disney Edition is out.

Was the item donated? How was it donated? If the game was from a publisher donation or donation from the general public, I’ll remove. If it was donated by members of our gaming group or through our “Adopt A Game” program, then it will be retained. Happy Pigs was an anonymously donated game and is under-performing. It doesn’t really do anything new or add anything to the collection so it will be removed.

Would the item be useful at a different location? I’m part of a four library township system. If a game would potentially be beneficial for another library, I’ll ask if they would be interested in it.

What is the physical condition of the game? If a popular game is getting well loved, I may deaccession it and then retain it for public gaming nights or for spare parts and order a replacement copy. If the game is getting worn and isn’t performing then I am likely to remove it entirely. I am very superficial and appearance of the collection is important. Small World is not circulating well at .88 and I would retain it except for the fact that the box is getting torn, split at the sides, and the area control mechanism is duplicated in other games.

So there we go…I’ll hold on to Kokoro but the rest are going away and making room for new games.

But what were the high performers? Oh, I’m glad you asked. By the way, Ticket to Ride and Codenames were both moved to another branch which is why you don’t see them.

  1. Monza (1.9) – a racing game for kids from Haba.
  2. Clank! (2) – deck-building dungeon crawling press your luck from Renegade Games.
  3. Pandemic (2.25) – classic Cooperative game from Z-man Games (currently missing pieces).
  4. Biblios (2.7) – SUPER popular small card game from Iello.
  5. Bob Ross: The Art of Chill (2.75) – I SWEAR this circulates because of Bob Ross’s face.
  6. Sushi Go Party (2.875) – Its a pass and play party from Gamewright!
  7. Splendor (3.333) – No. Surprise. Here.

 

Board in the Stacks: Sakura

IMG_0558You are the paparazzi of medieval Japan — painters. Hiding behind bushing, sneaking around tree, jostling for position to get a quick sketch maybe even a watercolor study of someone famous. As you lay in wait behind the garden gates you hear the clink of an easel. The soft scrape of a gentle brushstroke. The deep husky breathing of an artist. You aren’t alone. Other painters have been tipped off as well. It’s Spring and the emperor is taking a walk. It’s time to get physical. In Sakura, players are painters hoping to get the best viewpoint of the emperor while he strolls through his garden admiring the cherry blossoms. Move too fast and you may accidentally bump into the Emperor and be sent packing in disgrace. Move too conservatively and you’ll be left in the dust when he strikes a stunning pose.

Gameplay

The goal of Sakura is to get as close as possible to the Emperor when he stops to admire one of three sakura trees on the board. At these spots, the closest player will score three points, the next player will score two points, the third scores one point. In 5 or 6 player games the fourth in line scores one point as well. After scoring, players queue up in a straight line behind the leader and start again. At the last tree, the person with the most points win. It would be simple except for one thing. If you land on the same space as the Emperor or dare pass him, you lose a point and get sent back three spaces.

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Players have a hand of five cards. Each player secretly chooses one card and places it face down in front of them. Cards are then revealed and resolved by initiative order. Each card is numbered with the lowest going first. The cards have two actions to resolve: the top number (Garden Action) moves the Emperor or other players forward or backwards on the path. The bottom number (Painter Action) will move the player’s pawn forward or backwards on the path. Painters are territorial and never share a space. So when moving, you only count empty spaces towards your movement – and not those spaces occupied by other painters. So player position can change drastically over a turn.

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Review

Sakura is a silly push your luck game that manages to maintain its dignity. It is simple and easy to teach. The decisions are limited and with players restarting after every scoring space, no-one gets left behind. You need to  and succeeds with its simplicity. I was concerned after playing Osprey Games’ Star Cartel. Star Cartel was also simple but wasn’t much of a game. It felt instead like a solid mechanism in desperate need of a game to use it. But Sakura provides an experience with all it’s simplicity. You will spend 20 minutes jostling around, making hilarious mistakes that are completely unavoidable, and then line it up to go again. Luck can change quickly but you will have enough fun that you won’t care too much about the outcome.

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Board in the Stacks: Decrypto

IMG_0422Introduction

Decrypto is quick word game where teams attempt to relay information out loud to each other using coded clues without allowing the opposing team to “intercept” or figure out their message.

Setup and Gameplay

Each team has an upright dashboard with four red-screened windows numbered 1-4. In each window they tuck a card so that it reveals a word. Everyone on the team can see the four words displayed on the dashboard each corresponding to a numbered window. One player is designated the clue giver and they take a card showing a three digit code (for example, 3-2-1) using numbers 1-4. These will refer to the words in each of the numbered windows. Then they give a coded message of clues to relay the correct sequence to their teammates.  

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Dashboard Screens

Clues can be nearly anything: words, phrases, lyrics, etc. But they must relate specifically to the meaning of the word revealed in the window. For example, if a revealed word is “beach” you could use “sand,” “summer,” “ball,” or “ocean” as clues. Clues can’t be too obvious and, at the same time, clues too obscure will make it difficult for the guessing team. You need to be sly and moderately obfuscating, just like in professional life.

During the first round, both teams take turns giving and listening to the clues. If the clue giving team is unable to successfully guess the code, they get a black mark denoting their failure. Starting with the next round and all subsequent rounds, each team makes attempts to guess (intercept) the opposing team’s code. If the intercepting team can guess the code correctly, they earn a white mark of success. At the conclusion of a round, a team wins if they have two white tokens or loses if they have two black tokens. As the rounds progress, each team will be tallying notes and gaining a firmer resolution of the opposing team’s keywords.

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Code Cards for each team plus the success and failure tokens

Review

First of all let me be perfectly clear: Decrypto is not a Codenames “killer.” Decrypto adds an element of deduction and obfuscation into the formula creating an experience as tense as Codenames but without the simplicity and elegance. Part of what makes Decrypto feels more like a race. Eventually, someone’s code will be broken but how long will it take?

While Decrypto won’t replace Codenames, I have found to be a good replacement for social deduction games at the library. Social deduction games like Werewolf or Coup are easy to learn and play well in large groups. However, they do require a significant amount of social investment for new players. And nothing scares away new players like additional social investment. You are expected to perform within the constraints of the game and this performance can lead to anxiety. Just do the math: New Player plus Large Group plus Mandated Performance equals Anxiety. A LOT OF IT. Decrypto provides the deduction and bluffing but with known teams and simple roles so you still get those discovery moments without the social anxiety of outing another player or messing up your roll.

Game rounds move quickly and it works well as a large group warm-up game. There is a dearth of quick, easy-to-learn, team games and Decrypto fits that niche nicely. More people means more collaboration and discussion which means trickier clues. While some word games can be quiet (such as Codenames), the discussions in Decrypto tend to be louder and more animated. If Codenames is a bunch of spies skulking about, Decrypto is a group of opposing hackers screaming at their computer screens.

 

Board in the Stacks: Raiders of the North Sea

Introduction

In Raiders of the North Sea from designer Shem Phillips and published by Garphill Games (Renegade Games in North America), players are independent warriors of a Viking Clan striving to garner prestige and influence with their Chieftain. To do that they need to bring in plunder. And where is the best plunder? Held snugly within the unsuspecting Christian settlements to the north of your village. First you will need to assemble a crew, gather provisions, armor up, and head north to raid. Things will not be without blood. Once you pick off the easier harbor settlements, you will go up against better fortified opponents. Grab your oar, don your armor because death and glory will surely follow in your wake!

Setup and Gameplay

Raiders of the North Sea is part of a the North Sea Saga. It starts with Shipwrights of the North Sea (800 AD) where players compete to gather resources and build their fleet. This is followed by Raiders of the North Sea (900 AD) where players are gathering provisions and crews to raid settlements nearby settlements. And lastly, Explorers of the North Sea (1000 AD) where players are seeking out new lands to settle and control. The basic progression follows the Viking Age (800-1066) starting with the development of a massive fleet, raiding local settlements and then exploring the vast world and developing new outposts. Plus, if you use the North Sea Runesaga expansion each game can be played in progression with an overall victor at the end.

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During set up, three of the village buildings (gatehouse, town hall, and treasury) will get a black worker placed on it. Three Offering Tiles are placed in the appropriate spots next to the long house with the remaining tokens stacked and placed next to the board. Each of the raiding spots north of the village will have 2-4 randomly placed plunder (livestock, ore, gold, or Valkyrie) plus one grey or white worker each. Each raiding place will have a number for the amount of plunder and an icon for which type of worker placed there. Each player receives 2 Silver, 1 Black Worker, 1 Ship Card, 3 tokens in their color, and five crew cards. Players will choose 3 of the cards and discard the rest to make up their starting hand.

In Raiders of the North Sea players will be balancing between working in the village and raiding settlements. Players work in the village by placing a worker onto one of 8 different buildings to take the associated action. Then they remove a worker from one of buildings and take that associated action. Workers are three colors (white, grey, and black) which can effect which buildings can be utilized and the resulting action. This is a worker placement mechanism unique to Raiders. Every player starts with one worker which they place for an action and then pull a worker off the board for a second action. Players will always start and end a turn with one worker in their possession.

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After a player has built up a large enough crew and provisions, they can take a raiding action. The board is set up with several “tiers” of raiding spots. The harbor is the easiest area but scores only one point, followed by outposts, monasteries and fortresses. At the beginning of the game plunder is randomly placed in each raiding spot. This will be a mix of livestock, ore, gold, and black skulls (Valkyries). Valkyries represent death and glory in battle and when gathered after a raid will result in the death of a crew-person (booo) and also an increase on the Valkyrie track for points at the end of the game (yay).

While you can choose to raid any settlement on the board you need to be sure you have a large enough crew, ample provisions and/or gold, plus a worker of the proper color. In order to raid fortresses, white colored workers need to be first released. When players raid a harbor, for example, they place a worker (grey or black) on an available raiding spot. Then after the raid is resolved and plunder acquired, they pick up a new worker from their raiding spot. In this case, a grey worker.

Review

Raiders of the North Sea is a delight! It has shifted Lords of Waterdeep out of my collection and if my partner didn’t love beating me at Stone Age so much, that one would be right out too! As it stands, Viticulture and Raiders are my worker-placement games of choice.

The artwork in Raiders is bright, vibrant, and consistent across the entire trilogy. Terrforming Mars can’t even keep it consistent within one hand of cards. From my perspective, there is a loss of narrative cohesion when a variety of artists, sources, and styles are used instead of one overarching aesthetic. There is also a recent tendency for games to go deeply grim-dark and bloody, and I appreciate the change of pace with Raider’s colorful, stylized, and distinctive art style. Granted, the content is dark (raiding, plundering, etc.) but the cartoony art-style softens the impact. This makes the game much more accessible. On top of that, when you include the Fields of Fame expansion, the representation of women is surprisingly adequate … but apparently not realistic so let’s get to that 50/50 mark with the next expansion! However, it is leaps and bounds better than any other Viking themed game out on the market. Good job, well done, and I appreciate the realistic armor and body diversity.

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The mechanisms are balanced, pleasantly coherent, and smooth. Although the end game can feel a bit clunky as you track three different end game conditions (no Valkyries left, one Fortress left, or the Offering Tiles stack depleted). While worker placement is the primary mechanism to procure resources and crew for raiding forays, hand management in hiring crew (with a dash of luck in the dice roll) determines the profitability of the raids. Raids are guaranteed to succeed as long as the requirements are met. This will provide you a reward of plunder but the sheer magnitude of your victory will garner you points (and Fame if using the Fields of Fame expansion). Players are challenged to be selective in their crew and align them with their overall strategy. Do you go for large points by building up a mighty crew with attacking prowess (this will take longer but have a higher payout from more fortified settlements), or do you get the basic requirements quickly and raid fast and often (less payout but more plunder and options to make more offerings to the village chieftain)? And how are you going to keep this up while meanwhile keeping an eye on the Armor and Valkyries track for end game bonuses?

Initially, I was concerned about this being too convoluted for players. However, they got the idea quickly. However, I still would not put this in the “gateway” category. For me, a gateway game will allow a new player a decent chance of victory or placing well against a seasoned player. Experience pays off in Raiders and a new player will do poorly against experienced one. Tracking the crew card benefits and the complexity of the different workers can also be fiddly for new players. Most worker placement games provide players with their own cadre of workers to use but in Raiders you are basically sharing three different types of workers. Everyone starts with a black worker, and with certain areas only accessible by white or grey workers, players have to be cognizant of what type of worker they are placing, picking up, or locking down in a raid. Once those white and grey workers start being introduced into the mix, there is more competition for the type of worker players pick up. For these reasons, I think it is best for new players to stick to Stone Age to learn and then introduce Raiders.

Player interaction is present but not overwhelming. You need to be aware of what plunder players are collecting, the strength of their crew, and where their potential raiding/working spots will be. For the most part, you are on your own and adapting to the changing board state. Each raiding spot has three bundles of plunder so even if someone gets there quicker, your turn isn’t going to be completely wasted. The only real elements of interaction are some townsfolk cards that can hamper play by stealing provisions or silver. Nothing particularly catastrophic but you can slow down opponents with a well played card.

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Speaking of player interaction and inducing my rage, another fantastic element in the design of Raiders is a lack of blocking. Once more for the people in the back: Along with hate-drafting, blocking is the worst! The ability to block, unless it is central to the theme, feels very meta and petty to me. In Stone Age, a player can squat on a tile or card because they know someone wants it and not because it helps them. Then they move off of it at the end of the round. Blocking removes me from the flow of the game and I am pleased with how Raiders handles blocking — you can’t do it. Raiding is only accessible when players have the required crew, provisions, and type of worker. And with the place one/pick up one mechanism in the village, it is impossible to block since placing your worker *actually* provides the opportunity for another player to take that action! Thank you, Shem! Vikings know blocking is a strategy for the weak.

Raiders of the North Sea is an original take on worker-placement games. The snappy turns, variable pacing, solid eurogame roots, and delightful artwork, provides a very satisfying experience for a wide array of players. While not the best gateway game, new and seasoned players alike will love it.

Best Board Games of 2017

I fully expect that the flood of amazing games is going to slow down eventually. To abate somewhat. Maybe even decline. Yet, every year ends up being as amazing as the previous. Until I looked back, I thought 2017 was a fairly average year (it felt horribly below average, at least, for several reasons) however, for gaming, the year was actually stellar with some amazing releases.

As I state every year, it is impossible to play and review even a small portion of all of the games released in a year. It is even harder to recommend them to libraries when that audience is so diverse, communities so varied, plus the added challenge of focusing on the unique needs of circulating collections. That said, I think I limited it down to nine games that will certainly make wonderful additions to your library’s collection.  I try to recommend game with a small learning curve so most of these games are perfect for a budding collections (Herbaceous, Photosynthesis) and if I do include more complex games, they are worth the extra time it takes to learn and will be a better addition to an already established collection (London: 2nd Edition, Wasteland Express Delivery Service).

Some games just barely missed the cut but are still worth your time. Spirit Island is amazing but was too complex for new players. I was unable to play Codenames: Duet or Dinosaur Island in time for this list. Azul is gorgeous and Plan B Games is doing an amazing job with such a small catalog but I couldn’t get enough plays in to be able to review it. The same goes with Queendomino (the older sibling of last year’s Kingdomino) from Blue Orange Games. Renegade Game Studios is releasing a trilogy of games from designer Shem Phillips that have my beard all aglow — The North Sea Trilogy — Shipwrights of the North Sea, Raiders of the North Sea, and Explorers of the North Sea. I am in love with Raiders but it is a 2015 title so I left it out.

There are dozens more worth discussing and recommending to you and I hope that this shortened list serves as a good representation for what 2017 has offered. If you have opinions share them here or at the League of Librarian Gamers Facebook Group.

The Strategy Game: London (2nd Edition)

In London, designed by Martin Wallace and published by Osprey Games, 2-4 players are working to rebuild the city after the Great Fire of 1666. The process will take decades and players will need to purchase land, develop their boroughs, and run their city in an efficient manner to avoid poverty and debt.

If you enjoy city-building card games like Machi Koro, San Juan or Imperial Settlers, London is a perfect “second step” into more strategic games. The theme is accessible and it can be taught and set-up quickly. Despite the thin rulebook, the game has a surprising amount of strategic depth as you struggle with which cards to purchase, when to take loans, and when to best run your city.

The Gateway Game: Bunny Kingdom

Bunny Kingdom is a card drafting, area control game from Richard Garfield, designer of King of Tokyo and Magic the Gathering. Each player takes control of a crowded warren of rabbits seeking to expand and explore new lands. As you draft cards, your kingdom and options to score points will grow. But in order to do well, players need to make sure they diversify their resources, broaden their scoring potential and adapt their strategy to some friendly hate drafting.

Bunny Kingdom has plenty for all sorts of gamers. Fans of Sushi Go! can move into a larger decision space. Fans of 7 Wonders can find enjoyment in a similar level of complexity but with an added element of area control. Fans of Small World may enjoy the added element of drafting. And everyone will be charmed by the cute artwork and tiny bunny meeples. The drafting is seamless and the area control is surprisingly friendly.

The Experience Game: Near and Far

In Near and Far, 2-4 players are competing explorers roaming the land in search for the mystical Last Ruins. To accomplish this, the players will explore across several maps (and game sessions) hunting for treasure, discovering artifacts, setting up camps, avoiding bandits, and completing quests through a large, “choose your own adventure” style storybook.

There are two broad choices of what to do on a turn: Stay in town to prepare or go out adventuring and explore. Once you think you are properly outfitted for a journey, you head out into the wilds to try your luck. The better you prepare, the further you can travel, and the better story you tell. You can focus on battling threats, courting the locals, discovering relics and treasure, completing trade routes, or quest-quest-questing until your little lizard heart’s content. Either way, Near and Far provides an experience that is worth delving into.

The Cooperative Game: The Lost Expedition

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The Lost Expedition is a cooperative card game where players control an expedition searching for the legendary city of El Dorado. You will need to carefully manage food and ammunition while focusing on the many pitfalls and challenges the jungle will definitely throw at you. Success is simple: Have at least one member of your group of three survive to the end. You will take two jaunts into the jungle each day, setting your agenda by playing a path of event cards. Each card provides different options and when resolved can move your party closer to your goal but the choices are tough.

With cooperative gameplay, exceptional representation, tough decisions, and beautiful art from Garen Ewing, The Lost Expedition is an exciting addition to any library collection. It holds true to its literary inspiration — The Lost City of Z by David Grann.

The Tiny Box Big Game: Herbaceous

Herbaceous is a simple set-collection card game, with stellar artwork from Beth Sobel, where players are competing to pot herbs by the strategic placement, and swift collection, of sets of cards. Each player has exclusive access to their personal herb garden and shared access to a community garden.

The turns are simple. First, a player can optionally pick up herbs from both their private and/or the community garden and place them in one of four containers for points. Then two cards are drawn one at a time. They can decide to either keep it in their personal herb garden or put in into the communal garden. If kept, the next card they draw goes to the communal garden; if placed in the communal garden, the next card goes in their personal garden.

The Abstract Game: Photosynthesis

In Photosynthesis, players are each a unique species of tree attempting, through careful planning and cunning abandon, to find a place in the sun to generate energy, grow, spread seeds, and eventually be harvested for points. As your trees grow and spread, they gain more access to the sun as it <ahem> rotates around the board. But be careful! Competing trees can tower over you and block out that precious sunlight.

This is a gorgeous game. As the game progresses, a colorful forest canopy emerges, with trees spreading out, growing tall and eventually falling away. The rules are simple enough for a new player to understand the core concepts after a few turns. And despite the colorful backdrop, hidden beneath is a surprisingly tense game as you jockey to position your trees optimally while carefully watching what other players are doing.

The Editor’s Choice: Wasteland Express Delivery Service

In Wasteland Express Delivery Service, civilization has finally crashed and sank into a post-nuclear fashion oblivion — everything is all blood, sweat, tape, and spandex. You need to move water, food, and weapons in order to pick up enough scrap to keep your rig roadworthy and knee-deep in eyeliner. Upgrade weapons, storage space and other variable sundries in order to keep up with the competition. Attack and pillage raiders moving across the Wastelands or send them head first into another rig. The bulk of your time, however, will be moving materials for three different factions, picking up other contracts, and dealing with various catastrophic events. The player who first completes three objectives, wins…and then takes a bath.

This is a beast of a game and I would never recommend it for circulation, but while draped in an aggressively busy post-apocalyptic setting and featuring an intensity of artwork that would make Tank Girl blush and Mad Max *finally* go home, WEDS is a delightfully chunky mess of a game with a solid pick-up-and-deliver frame. It takes a while to set up and the rules are extensive. However, once you get this game rolling along, it just keeps on trucking into blissful oblivion.

The 2017 MVP: Century Spice Road

Photo Credit: Mikko Saari from Flickr https://flic.kr/p/HYotVa

I don’t think any game this year has made as big and far-reaching a splash as Century: Spice Road — from Plan B Games and Emerson Matsuuchi with artwork by Fernanda Suárez. It is played at every board game event I have at the library and I always have a copy available. Players are caravan leaders traveling the silk road to deliver spices. Each turn, players perform one of four actions: They can purchase a market card to put in their hand or take the free one. They can play a market card from their hand to produce, upgrade, or trade spices. They can spend spices to fulfill a demand and claim a victory point card for points. Or you can rest and pick up all the cards played back into their hand. The game ends when someone collects the fifth victory point card. It is a wonderfully quick and snappy and plays well with two all the way up to five players.

What even excites me more about Century Spice Road is that it is the first game in a planned trilogy of games from Plan B Games. The next of which, Century: Eastern Wonders is coming out this summer. Each game can be played separately or combined together. And if Century Spice Road sets the tone for the quality of production and design, the rest of the trilogy will be amazing. If you purchase any game for your library, make it this one. It is a staple.

Board in the Stacks: Photosynthesis

In Photosynthesis, you are a species of tree engaged in an ages-long struggle for precious sunlight. Sap has not been shed in generations and you hope to see your wind-blown progeny emerge innocent from seed and grow to haggard adulthood. Until, that is, they are harvested for points on the whim of an uncaring and vengeful Smiling God. It’s a dendrological battle for supremacy over this forested realm…prepare yourselves!

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Setup

To start, each player takes their personal board and all the associated seeds/trees. They fill in the empty spots on their board where they are stored and then set the light point tracker to zero. Some seeds and small trees will be left over. These will constitute items immediately available for the player to use. The main board in Photosynthesis consists of circles radiating out from a central circle where seeds and trees will be placed. This is contained within a large hex which contours serve as the path the sun takes as each round progresses. Moving from the outer rim to the inner, the soil gets progressively richer, the colors darker, the points potential higher, and the competition more menacing.

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The sun is placed on the sun icon to start. Each concentric row’s circles has 1-4 leaves: A single leaf on the outer row, two leaves on the next inner row, three in the next, and the center circle has four. Each player places two of their small trees on the outermost row denoted by a single leaf. Scoring tokens corresponding to the number of leaves and color of the circles are stacked next to the board with the highest value on top.

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The game rounds tokens are also stacked: Either three or four rounds depending on the difficulty preferred. Each round includes six stops for the sun as it revolves around the board.

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Gameplay

There are two phases at each stop of the sun – 1) Photosynthesis, where light points are earned and 2) Life Cycle, where players use their accumulated light points to place seeds, grow and/or harvest trees, and purchase new trees/seeds from their player board.

During the Photosynthesis phase, the sun is moved clockwise and light points are collected from it’s new position and tracked on player’s boards. Small trees gain one light point, medium trees gain two, and large trees gain three. However, where you have light, you also have shadows. If a tree is in the shadow of another tree of equal or larger size, then it can’t gain light points. Small trees cast a shadow of one circle, medium trees cast a shadow of two circles, and the large trees cast a shadow of three circles.

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During the Life Cycle phase, players, in turn order, use light points to perform actions. Players can buy trees/seeds from their player board starting with the bottom most (least expensive) and working up. Purchased trees/seeds get moved to the side of the player’s board until willing to pay the cost for placement on the main board.

Players can also spend light points to plant seeds and grow trees. After initial setup, all trees on the board have to start from seeds. Seeds cost one light point to plant and must be distributed from an established tree. Similar to the collecting light and casting a shadow formula of 1/2/3; small trees can distribute a seed one space away, medium trees distribute seeds two spaces away, and large trees distribute seeds three spaces away. Each tree can only plant one seed a round.

Growing trees also stays true to the 1/2/3 formula; costing 1 light point to grow from seed to small tree, 2 light points to go from a small to medium tree, and 3 to go from a medium to large tree. When you replace a tree, the smaller size goes back onto the upper-most (most expensive) area on the player’s board. If no room exists, that item gets lost and goes back into the box. With the exception of trees placed at set-up, all items placed on the board are purchased first from the player board.

A central concept of Photosynthesis is that each space (and the seed/tree on it) can only be used once per round. If you grew a tree from small to medium, that same tree could not spread a seed. Just remember that if somethings happens on a space, that space is now inactive until the next round. Chill out friend, you’ll get there.

You can harvest large trees for 4 light points. The tree is removed from the main board, placed back on the player board, and the top scoring token matching the number of leaves (1-4) is taken.

Once everyone has spent the light points they wish, the start player token is passed to the left, the sun is moved clockwise to the next position on the hex and the next round’s Photosynthesis phase begins. For every complete revolution of the sun, one round token is removed. Once all the round tokens are removed, the game ends and points are tallied. Tears are shed. The circle of life continues.

Review

Blue Orange is a goddamned modern miracle. First New York: 1901, then Kingdomino, and now this. Photosynthesis is a gorgeous abstract game of spatial reasoning, impotent rage, and careful planning with a surprisingly entrenched theme. Especially for an abstract game! This leads me into a philosophical quandary — Can this be an abstract game when the theme feels so entwined with the mechanisms? Trees grow, spread their seeds, working towards the richer soils of the middle board. All the while nudging other trees out of the way to gain the most sunlight.

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Everything is so calm. So peaceful. So serene.

On top of that, the visual elements of the game are beautiful. The colors and shapes of the trees are distinctive creating a game that a joy to play and look at. Hell, I don’t even care about winning when the board ends up looking so amazing. The rules and mechanisms are surprisingly simple. They achieve this by sticking to a strict 1/2/3 formula. Small trees will cost 1 light point to grow, gain 1 light point during the photosynthesis stage, and casts 1 space of shadow. The medium trees do the same but with a cost of 2, and the large trees with a cost of 3.

Despite the seemingly innocuous and calming theme (see above picture of me chill af), the feel of the game is extremely tense. Just mindbogglingly tense. Like Wasabi tense. Placement of your trees and working towards that lucrative center spot while maintaining access to the sun as it moves requires a tight combination of tactical, strategic planning, and pure ruthlessness. Additionally, with 3-4 players, the board gets crowded and becomes the proverbial knife fight in a phone-booth. Seemingly minor placement errors early on can lead to large potential losses later in the game as your strategy adapts, leaving you to ponder what to do with these worthless saplings. The initial setup is important and being blocked early in the game when sunlight is precious can lead to major difficulty later on. It feels like optimum opening moves will potential reveal themselves after repeated play.

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Stop blocking me, Brenda!

The movement of the sun and varied ability to gain access as it moves is pivotal. It means that 1) players need to place in a manner that will provide the most sunlight as the sun moves and 2) stay psychically aware of the potential movements of other players. This is simple enough in a two player game (where it is a smooth, evenly paced experience) but with 3-4 players the potential movements adds a healthy amount of variety and randomness. Do you grow a few trees as tall as possible? Or do you spread your seed far and wide, basically blocking players from expanding. All while ensuring you have a decent light gathering engine to keep your plan moving.

It may be my lack of experience in abstract and spatial reasoning games, but I usually have a couple of rounds where I am unable to gain any light. Just a complete dry spell followed by a complete windfall. So it seems profitable to have at least a couple of trees out of the fray and growing on the periphery to gain sunlight from multiple positions while sneaking a tendril into the center of the board. Others tear into the center as quickly as possible.

Another interesting element of the game is that players have more seeds and trees than they have room for on their player board. If you ever have to remove one of those items from the main board and have no place for them on your board, they get removed completely from the game. With careful planning and allocation of resources you can keep more trees in play than your opponents allowing for a less expensive items, more placement opportunities, and more sun. Since that sunlight can turn on you in some rounds this allows for a better chance at controlling the richer areas of the board. But growing an adult tree and then harvesting for points basically frees up that rich spot for another tree. So there is an interesting ebb and flow as you struggle to grab onto the rich center spot but you are never able to hold onto it for long.

The most difficult decision for me comes with the largest trees. These things can be a veritable goldmine of light points so it behooves you to keep them around but, at the same time, harvesting them is the only way to earn points. So you need to be sure your engine is firing fast enough that you can harvest for points and then be able to grab up that spot again in a future round.

While the trees are beautiful and increases the table presence of Photosynthesis. They are too clunky, in my opinion, to circulate without being damaged or lost. However, it is the perfect bait game — the rules are simple and the gameplay can be picked up quickly by watching it being played. My suggestions is to purchase other abstract games to circulate but keep Photosynthesis for any in-house gaming events your library hosts.

 

Board in the Stacks: Mountains of Madness

IELLO is diving into the realm of Cthulhu with Mountains of Madness; a quirky, cooperative party game from designer Rob Daviau. The game draws inspiration from the H.P. Lovecraft novel, At the Mountains of Madness, focusing on the events of an ill-fated Miskatonic University expedition to Antarctica as adventurers are driven slowly mad by exposure and their encounters with the unknown. If you are unfamiliar with Rob Daviau, he has a unique design pedigree. He is designer of Pandemic Legacy, Risk Legacy, Seafall, and the primary innovator of the “Legacy” mechanism where the game changes permanently over time based on the outcome of previous games; providing a unique gaming experience. IELLO Games has a consistent art aesthetic with cartoony and bright colors with games such as King of Tokyo and Kanagawa which appeal more to families and emerging gamers. A Lovecraft-inspired “party” game, certainly feels outside the usual realm of both designer and publisher and I was instantly curious. So how did they do?

A central theme to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, and every game based upon his mythos, is madness. The challenge is that the essence of crippling insanity doesn’t really port well into analog games. Madness tokens can be collected. Players can track how “mad” they’ve become in order to optimize their play. In these situations, madness becomes another resource to monitor and maintain. There is no practical way to design for players to represent their internal experiences in the game and give them an active voice. That is until Mountains of Madness where players, as they continue through the expedition, are driven “mad” by their experiences.  To do this they have to role-play specific quirks described on acquired madness cards. These quirks will hamper their ability to communicate and plan as the game gets progressively more difficult and the their madness intensifies.

This is arguably the central and most interesting mechanism in the game. Each madness card will provide a rule or action that the player must follow through on while communicating during the brief planning period with other players. Since a cooperative game normally hinges upon the successful communication of information between players, this presents a distracting and, at times, off-putting hurdle to victory, making this one of the more difficult cooperative games I’ve played.

This is where player buy-in for Mountains of Madness is pivotal. As characters grow increasingly “mad,” they will pull cards from one of three madness decks, each increasing in difficulty. Players actively role-play the described actions from the card when communicating to make it difficult for other players and themselves to meet their objectives. They are purposely choosing to engage in their “madness” in a way that will hamper play. If players are willing to play along with this, Mountains of Madness captures the feeling and reaction to insanity shockingly well. If they don’t buy into the roleplaying aspect of the game, there is very little else to the game.

This is not to say that the rest of the game is bad but the crux of the game is in the interaction between players, their madness, and the struggle to communicate successfully in quick sprints. Players who hold true to their madness will easily make mistakes, forget information, purposely confuse other players, etc. This provides a wonderful comparison to hidden traitor games where distrust is fostered as you attempt to suss out the betrayer in the group. But there is no traitor here, only people attempting to communicate and cooperate within increasingly difficult constraints. In essence, everyone is trying to slightly throw off the game. Everyone is a traitor…

And it is gloriously frustrating.

In Mountains of Madness, 3-5 players will attempt to explore a pyramid shaped set of tiles from coast to mountain, to hidden city, and then to the Edge of Madness and a daring escape to bring back enough evidence to secure their academic futures. Players have a hand of equipment cards representing different equipment (crates, tools, weapons, and books) ranging in value from 2-6. These will correspond to values and equipment to be utilized in order to pass increasingly difficult challenges.

Each round of play is split into a Movement and Encounter Phase. At the start of the round, one player is designated leader of the expedition. The leader ultimately decides the group’s movement and whether or not to discard Leadership tokens. Leadership tokens are a limited currency used to earn additional communication time, rerolling the penalty die, and resting. Resting allows the group to regain used Leadership tokens but forces you to permanently lose one so be careful. If the team runs out of Leadership tokens, the game is lost. So the game is geared towards the use and eventual loss of Leadership tokens.

During the Movement phase, the leader moves the group to an adjacent expedition tile. The leader can confer with everyone or make an arbitrary decision. And while it is certainly possible to shoot straight up the mountain, generally it is best to meander around to try to pick up some relics. A quick shot up the mountain and escape will not provide enough evidence to win. Since the role of leader rotates, the usual issue with one alpha gamer dominating the game is somewhat mitigated since every player gets the opportunity to be in charge.

Once the group moves the Encounter Phase begins and the tile is flipped, revealing the reward for successfully completing the tile. The team also flips over the timer and has 30 seconds to determine which cards should be played and by whom to complete the challenge. However, in the brief time to plan, the players will be hampered by their madness cards. The Leader is in charge of tracking the conversation and the contributions of each team member. Conversation ends as soon as the timer runs out, the Leader decides to use Leadership tokens, or when the Leader takes cards from a player and places them on the Sled board. At this point, everyone silently makes their final decisions and hands over the cards they wish to play.

Succeeding challenges provide advantages like taking away injuries, granting extra leader tokens, and most importantly, give relics, knowledge, ruins, and other cards needed to ultimately win the game. While success means gaining relics, the knowledge along with them means that the player gaining the relic may also gain a more debilitating madness or lose certain abilities. Failure means that you have to leave it to the fates and roll a damage die or choose to upgrade your madness card. While level 1 madness cards can be distracting, the level 2 and 3 cards can be downright disastrous to teamwork.

After the turn, the leadership of the group will rotate clockwise. As you climb higher up the mountain, you will notice that the iconography is not consistent with colors, shapes, or text changing. This is an amazingly delicate touch as you feel your sanity slipping further and further away. This is especially enjoyable if you plan on teaching and moderating this game with new players. That moment when the escape tokens are flipped and suddenly the colors are off is priceless. If the team ultimately succeeds and escapes the mountain, they will compare the difference between collected injury cards and collected relic cards. More injuries than relics equals an overall failure of the expedition.

My biggest gripe about Mountains of Madness is how overproduced it is for what is primarily a game centered around the madness cards. The 30 second burst of planning and conversation hampered by the madness cards takes almost all the focus away from the game board and components. The game could have been much more minimalist in presentation and still just as satisfying. Iello production and component quality is as high as always, it just seems that the game could have been just as effective and fun in a much smaller package with much less included. I would be the first person to jump on board with “Mountains of Madness: The Card Game.”

Mountains of Madness is a tricky game to review. The interactions are so unique that it is a challenge to gauge the game as either a party game or a cooperative game or strategy game. What is it? I don’t know. It’s a strange game but one that everyone seems to really enjoy. For me the madness cards are certainly the most intriguing part and requires perhaps an overabundance of player buy-in to really have the experience succeed. I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys cooperative and hidden traitor or bluffing games in equal measures. It is challenging, exciting, and hilarious to play but requires more strategy than most party games and more extroversion than most strategy games which may make this game tough to find an audience for. But when you find them, it’s a hit.

Board in the Stacks: Magic Maze

Magic Maze is a real-time cooperative game similar to Escape: The Curse of the Temple or Space Cadets that playes 1-8 people in about 15 minutes. Unlike those though, players do not get assigned characters. Players can control any adventurer at any point of time according to their whim. Where it gets tricky is that players only have one action to complete, and aren’t allowed communicate with each other. There is, however, a large, red, passive-aggressive pawn that can be tapped impatiently or slammed in front of a player you suspect is missing something.

On top of that, there is a three minute timer to watch! If the timer runs out, it’s game over, man! The players lose. Lucky for them, there are tile locations that can allow players to flip the timer to briefly plan and power on. When a sand timer is flipped, players are allowed to communicate and quickly plan out their movements until someone takes an action, then it is back to silent partners.

So let’s sum up: Cooperative *check*, timed *check*, no assigned characters *check*, and players can’t verbally communicate with each other *check.*

Wonderful! This shouldn’t a be a problem at all…

To set-up players will choose which of 17 scenarios they will play. Each scenario has specific requirements on how to set up the tile deck and provides additional rules. Honestly, the first few scenarios (similar to Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle or Mystery: Motive for Murder) serve to get the players familiar with the game while slowly adding additional elements. They can be skipped by more experienced players. Each of the four pawns get placed in the middle of the starting tile. The goal is to get the all four pawns onto their designated space to steal their particular piece of equipment, and then out to the exit space.

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To do this, each player will randomly get assigned 1 of the 9 Action Tiles. These are the actions that can be applied to the adventurers. They include directional movement, going up and down escalators, entering portals, or exploring and adding new tiles to the board. This is the only action a player can assign to an adventurer in the game. Once the timer is flipped, players begin to apply their specific action[s] to the adventures.

Review

While I love the stress and tension of real time games, I tend to only be able to stomach a couple of these games in my collection. Fully cooperative real time games like Escape! Curse of the Temple are a perennial favorite while the team based real time games like Space Cadets: Dice Duel or Captain Sonar provide too much competitiveness along with the tension and tend to not last too long in my collection. Magic Maze falls into the former category and strikes a balance between high tension and short game length.

While the artwork and presentation make Magic Maze seem appropriate to younger audiences, the hectic nature of the game play, the limited time, and the complexity of the later scenarios make it a challenge for younger players. Similar to Hanabi, this game rewards repeat play with a consistent set of players. You will develop a sense of player’s strategies and suss out any tells or hints they unconsciously provide.

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The interactions in Magic Maze are interesting. While most of the game is quiet since communication is forbidden, the small quick bursts of loud, harried talking when a timer is flipped add for a wonderful break of that silence. These occasional bursts are oddly exhilarating. It provides for a quick planning session while the timer is running and just enough to break the tension and get everyone relatively on the same page. Once you get two or three moves past it though, everything starts falling apart.

Scenarios not only increase in difficulty but also provide a scaffolding style of teaching the game through the first few scenarios. Each of the first few scenarios introduce new rules and slowly gives the players an opportunity to get acclimated to the game elements. Each of these learning scenarios can be played quickly and are a satisfying way of introducing the game to new players.

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For a library setting, Magic Maze is perfect! It is hectic, silly, and oddly quiet. It plays quickly in a relatively small space. The cooperative and real-time elements of the game make it appealing to spectate. The slow increasing of complexity tempers the chaotic nature of the game making it more accessible, and this is one of the few cooperative games that successful mitigates the Alpha Gamer problem. It is also provides an mildly competitive feel when players with opposing strategies attempt to move the same pawn. The pieces are limited to nondescript pawns, tiles and some tokens, making circulation simple.

Board in the Stacks: London Second Edition

Osprey Games (Samurai Gardener, The Ravens of Thris Sahashri, Escape from the Aliens from Outer Space, The Lost Expedition) has published a second edition of Martin Wallace’s seminal tableau builder, London, and it is absolutely gorgeous. Just to start off on a high note this game is elegant in presentation from the book box (it opens from the spine just like a book) to the card’s delightful and surprisingly bright color palette. In London, players take the role of architects attempting to rebuild London in the decades following the devastating Great Fire of 1666. Each player will develop and run their city, purchase land, and manage poverty efficiently while earning prestige to win.

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To stumble into the vernacular, London is a card-driven city building game with an appeal and look but not the persistence of an engine builder. If you enjoy the card-play in games like San Juan or Imperial Settlers but desire just a bit more depth, London will satisfy. Players will spend most of their time playing cards into a personal tableau in order to generate money, mitigate poverty, and generate prestige for the architects of London. It’s a simple game to explain with a quick teach and a moderate amount of depth to explore.

Players are dealt 6 city cards at the start of the game — each with a variety of costs, abilities, and benefits. City cards come in three colors (blue, pink, or brown) and represent different businesses, improvements, buildings, and artisans that will make your city run smoothly. Brown cards represent economic activity. Blue cards represent science and culture. Pink cards relate to politics. However, in order to play a card into your tableau, you will have to discard a card of the same color into the development board. Since cards can be drawn from the deck or the development board, this will provide the card to other players during future turns. Pauper cards are also floating around which can only be discarded through other card actions or when forced to discard down to the hand limit.

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On a player’s turn, they draw one card from the development board or the city card deck and then do one of the following:

1) Develop their city, 2) Buy land, 3) Run their city, or 4) Draw three cards.

When a player develops their city they are playing cards in front of them. In order to do so, they need to discard a card of the same color and potentially pay any additional costs. In the picture below, the Hospital card could be played when another blue card was discarded and 2 pounds payed to the supply. Players can play as many cards as they are able on their turn but can’t stack cards on top of each other on the same turn. They will need to wait until another turn to do that. 

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Buying land is simple. Players have a market of three borough cards on display each with a monetary cost and a list of benefits for purchasing the land (extra cards, prestige points, and removing poverty cubes). Some borough cards also provide an additional ongoing ability for players. Each borough card has icons representing the location of the borough (North or South) and whether it is adjacent to the Thames River.

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If you already have a borough purchased, the newly purchased borough card will cover any abilities of the previous borough, leaving only the name and the location uncovered. Thus, only the ability of the most recently purchased borough can be activated while still keeping track of the locations.

When a player decides to run their city, they can activate any (or all) the cards in their tableau. Some cards require an additional activation cost (discarding a card or paying a fee) while others have no cost. If you don’t have enough money at any point in the game, are unable to pay a penalty or just wish to push ahead, you can get a loan token and 10 pounds. At start of any future turn you have the ability to pay off the loan and return the token for 15 pounds. Most cards can only be activated once and then flipped over. After the desired cards are activated and benefits are collected, the player gains one poverty for each stack of cards in his tableau, one for each card remaining in his hand, and one poverty for each loan token in front of him. 

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Running a City: Player earned 15 pounds, 2 prestige points, and used the Hospital card to keep the Covent Garden active for another run. They additionally generated 4 poverty for the 4 stacks of cards in their city and 2 poverty for the 2 cards still in their hand.

Play continues until all the cards in the city deck are drawn. Players then count all the prestige points in their tableau (it doesn’t matter if the cards are flipped over or not), points for left over money, and take penalties for any outstanding loans and poverty.

Review:

Osprey did a wonderful job of updating and reprinting this 7 year old classic. Yes, I know … “classic” doesn’t really apply here but in hobby board game years are like dog years. Every human year equals 5 board game years so this game is *actually* 35 years old. While the core mechanisms are the same, there are some significant differences from the first edition that greatly affect gameplay if you are familiar with the first edition.

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Most apparent, the first edition map is removed and replaced with the market of borough cards. Additionally, some card actions that related to the map were modified and included on the borough cards. Boroughs no longer persistently reduce the poverty except for the initial purchase. Any unpaid loans will also further generate poverty after you run your city. 

Poverty has a much more significant factor in the second edition of the game. This is not particularly surprising in a Martin Wallace game. His games can be punishing and seems to take great joy in dashing my hopes and dreams against the jagged edge of a black cube, outstanding loans, or plague rats. Poverty can generates quickly after running a city, and can only really be significantly reduced by purchasing borough cards and some C Deck cards that come late in the game. Poverty is a wonderful balancing act that provides a nice amount of tension between the desire to keep your city neat and tidy or wide and sprawling. In reality, poverty seems more punishing than it actually is. Players are completely fine accumulating poverty as long as all the players are closely grouped together. If one player can actively reduce poverty dramatically, that dynamic will change abruptly though so keep some cards at the ready just in case.

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The new artwork is gorgeous. The packaging is beautiful. Osprey really made this game look elegant enough for an actual bookshelf. Iconography and graphic design are intuitive and simple and a ready reference on back cover of the rules book helps out new players.

This game is accessible, tense, not overly punishing, and cards don’t really combo to devastating effects — it is less of an engine builder and more a tactical tableau builder. You can certainly optimize but that feature of really being able to bury an opponent just doesn’t exist. This is a game of balance rather than offense. You can grow your city to a sprawling size if you think you can handle the poverty or you can keep it neat and tidy and hope it is just enough to beat some of your more daring opponents.

London has a firm footing in my cadre of games to use when I plan on introducing new players to more strategic games at the library. It has a nice ratio of decision space to complexity. It is easy to teach the basics but will take at least 3-4 games to get an optimal strategy. It plays a bit longer than most gateway games but doesn’t overstay its welcome. It isn’t forgiving to new players and experience certainly will prevail. However, the gameplay isn’t too combative and there is a certain satisfaction in developing a good city and keeping poverty at a minimum.  

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As a circulating “deeper” strategy game, London is a great fit. It is mostly cards with some small, easily replaced bits and tokens so checking in and out is simple enough. The theme is easily understood and accessible. The teach is simple enough to provide a quick overview at the circulation desk but the depth of strategy is wider than most gateway games. It plays well for the entire player count (2-4). I’ve enjoyed watching this game played by emerging gamers. By the first running of the a city, they will have the basics of the game well under control and by the second play will have a handle on the strategy. If there is such as thing as a gateway Wallace, this is is. London is a must have for any library. Buy it.