Posts Tagged ‘Board games’

One of the more perplexing mysteries in society is the monetary valuation of visual art.  This is especially true when we look at contemporary work, which has not withstood hundreds of years of critique to determine its intrinsic worth.  While one person may look at Mark Rothko’s Green and Tangerine on Red and say it just looks like a couple squares of paint, others see deep meaning, earning it a prime location in Washington D.C.’s Phillips Collection.

To get a better understanding of how contemporary art is valued and sold, I encourage you to learn more about the subject.  The first half of Ulrich Boser’s The Gardner Heist provides some insight into how art is acquired by museums and private collectors.  You may also enjoy this podcast by NPR’s Planet Money, that looks at how pricing works in the art market.

But if you want to experience the unpredictable world of buying and selling paintings for yourself, then you need look no further than Reiner Knizia’s masterpiece of a game – Modern Art.  This is a game with broad appeal that puts you right in the middle of the wild and wonderful world of art auctions.  The game is published in the U.S. by Mayfair Games, and is not to be confused with Modern Art: the Card Game, which is a vastly inferior impostor.

In Modern Art, each player is involved both with buying and selling paintings by five fictional artists.  While this makes certain thematic sense (museums generally only sell art to purchase other art), I’ve found it easier to explain as players wearing two hats.  First, you’re an art dealer, anxious to unload a painting to the highest bidder.  Secondly, you’re a museum director, looking to acquire something by the Next Great Artist.  Think of the art dealer being in cahoots with the museum director – he may sell it to his best pal, who has a little insider information about what’s about to hit the market.

The game is played over a series of four rounds, and the winner is the player with the most cash at the end of the game.  At the start of the first three rounds, players are dealt a hand of cards, each of which has a painting by one of the five artists.  These cards represent the holdings of your art dealer side (paintings acquired by your museum will be played on the table in front of you).  Those cards also each have a symbol which represents the type of auction that must be used to sell the painting.

Moving around the table in turn order, players will offer up a painting for auction to everyone, including themselves.  The card symbol tells you how to conduct the auction – it may be traditional, each player may only get one bid, it may be a secret sealed auction, or the painting may be offered at a single fixed price.  There are also cards that require a double auction – two paintings by the same artist go on the block at once.  Then the bidding begins!  Players are trying to determine what they think the painting is going to be worth at the end of the round – because that’s when the art really pays off.

At the end of the round (which happens when the fifth painting by a single artist is played), everyone looks at the three top artists – those that had the most of their art sold.  Each painting by the #1 artist pays out at $30,000, the #2 artist’s work gets you $20,000 apiece, and #3 pays $10,000 each.  The other two artists just didn’t make it big this time around.  All cards on the table are discarded, and a new round begins (players keep unsold paintings in their hand to carry over).

The game really heats up in later rounds, because those payouts are cumulative!  So if, for example, Karl Gitter is the #1 artist in the first round, and in the third round he’s the #2 artist, his paintings are now selling for $50,000 each!  Which means the bidding goes higher and higher…  The challenge is that players are trying to do quick calculations in their head as the game goes on; “If he ends up being #2 this time, I could get $50K , so I think I’m willing to bid up to $40K to get it.”  You’re working with limited information based on what you see on the table, what you remember has been sold in the past, and what cards you hold in your hand.

This on the surface is a straight-forward game, but the right group of people can turn it into a party game.  I first learned Modern Art with a bunch of theater-folk, and we naturally found ourselves naming each art piece as it was played, adding back-story about the artists, and working hard to convince each other to BUY THIS PAINTING!  Believe me when I say this makes the game twice as much fun.  Sometime I’ll tell you the story of how my sister-in-law named a Yoko painting simply with a sound effect.

It’s really a fantastic game, and represents auction games in the purest form.  The agony of knowing that you need to spend your money to make money, and you also need that money to win is just delicious.  The game works for 3 – 5 players, but I strongly prefer it with 5, as you get the maximum excitement in the bidding process.  Modern Art is a contemporary classic that gives you a window into the wild and wonderful world of art acquisition – and it remains one of my top ten games of all time.  Check it out!


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Introduction to…Pandemic

It’s been a really long time since I posted about a board game and I don’t know why.  Probably because I’m spending so much time playing them!  But why should I have all the fun?  Here’s another great game to tell you about.

Today I’d like to introduce you a very different type of game that’s arguably been the most popular game of the past year in our house – Pandemic.  This is an easy game to learn, and doesn’t take very long to play. But unlike traditional games, this one is called cooperative, because all the players work together to secure a victory as a team.  It’s you against the game – can you save the world?

In this game you are working to stop the spread of some highly infectious diseases around the planet – pretty timely considering current events, no?  The diseases are represented by 4 colors of cubes (red, blue, black and yellow) that are concentrated in particular regions of the world.  Each player will move about the board trying to treat victims of each disease, while also searching for cure.  The players all start at the CDC in Atlanta, pictured below.

Players are dealt a hand of cards – each one pictures a city and is in the color of the type of disease that might strike there.  For example, you may have cards for Paris (blue), Baghdad (black), Sydney (red) and Mexico City (yellow).  The cards also tell you a few basic demographics about the city – built-in geography lesson!  To find a cure you need to get 5 cards in your hand of the same color – but the challenge is you can’t have more than 7 cards in your hand at any time.

The cards are also used on your turn to help you move around the board.  A player has several options on his turn, and can do 4 actions each time.  These include traveling by car or boat (adjacent cities, no card needed) or by plane which requires discarding the card for the city you want to fly to or from.  You can also remove a cube of disease (1 cube = 1 action), exchange a card with another player if you’re both in the same city featured on the card, or you can build a research station – again if you have the card for that city.  Once a player has accumulated 5 cards of the same color, she can move to a city with a research station, discard that set of cards, and mark that the disease has been cured!  Once that happens, you are able to clear out that particular disease much faster.  If you are able to remove all cubes of one color from the board (after finding a cure) then it is eradicated and the disease will not reappear for the remainder of the game.  In the image below, the blue disease has been cured, and the yellow disease has been eradicated.

Now, that’s all well and good, but where do the diseases come from?  There is a second pile of cards which also feature all the cities on them, and they comprise the infection deck.  At the beginning of the game you will reveal 9 city cards and infect them to varying degrees.  Then, at the end of each player’s turn he will draw a number of infection cards equal to the current infection rate (see below) and add a cube to those cities.

Still sound too easy to win?  Well we’re just getting started – let’s move onto Epidemic cards.  Amidst the player deck you will seed (somewhat evenly) 4 – 6 epidemic cards.  Each player draws 2 cards as the second part of her turn; should she get an Epidemic, she must play it face up and follow the instructions.  The first is that the infection rate increases one notch – which isn’t bad at first, but after the 3rd epidemic you’ll notice the rate is up to 3 cities per turn.  Secondly, a new city (drawn from the bottom of the deck) is infected with 3 cubes.  Lastly, the really nasty part – the discarded infection cards are shuffled and put back on top of the deck!  In other words, those cities that you’ve been running around and dealing with are going to continue being infected until you find a cure – and time is running out!

As if that wasn’t enough, you also must try to prevent disease outbreaks.  When a city has 3 cubes in it and that city shows up in the infection deck, the disease in that city outbreaks.  You place one cube of that city’s color in every city it’s adjacent to, regardless of color.  This turns your little problems into big ones fast.  Each time you have an outbreak, you note it on the outbreak meter, pictured at left.  The worst situation is a possible chain reaction, when a disease outbreaks from one city and sends a cube to an adjacent city that already has 3 cubes – double outbreak!

So now that you’re feeling the pressure, let’s talk about winning and losing.  The players win if they can find a cure for all 4 diseases before one of three things happens – the outbreak meter hits 8, you run out of all the cubes in one color, or the player deck is exhausted (which represents running out of time).  Trying to prevent all three of these situations is a real balancing act and is what makes the game so exciting!

Fortunately, there is some help for the players that will allow them to use some creative problem-solving to save the world.  Mixed into the player deck are a few special event cards which will allow you special privileges, like airlifting a player to any city, or building a free research station in any city with a government grant.  These special cards can be played at any time, regardless if it’s your turn or not.  Also, each player has a role which will allow you to do something not normally allowed.  For example, the Medic can move into a city and remove all cubes of that color as a single action.  The Scientist can find a cure with just 4 cards of the same color.

I’m a big fan of this game – I have declared that it was the best new game I played in all of 2009.  It requires strong communication, problem-solving and a good dose of luck to come up with a win.  And any time you think it’s getting too easy, there is always a way to ratchet up the difficulty.  Thus far I haven’t taught it to anyone that didn’t like it after one game.  In fact, I introduced some players to it at my house and then I went off to play another game.  They ended up playing through it 5 times in a row until they won!  Pandemic is a good game for players at all skill levels and is especially suited as a “gateway game” for players that haven’t tried many board games. It is designed for 2-4 players, but I particularly enjoy it with 2; it’s a great game for couples, as you have to work on your communication with each other!  This is a relatively short game, taking only about 45 minutes. Pandemic is published in the U.S. by Z-Man Games.

I’ll also add that recently Z-Man released an expansion set for this game called On the Brink.  It’s one of the best expansions I’ve seen.  You get more player roles, a bunch of new special event cards, improved player pawns and nifty storage cases shaped like petri dishes.  There are also 3 added scenarios that you can try which make the game even harder to win – trust me, it’s tough!  Definitely a lot of bang for your buck, so if you like the main game I highly recommend going for this new set to enhance your experience.

Thanks for reading my review – and I promise to be back soon with another game review.

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Today I’d like to introduce you a game that’s a big favorite amongst my family – Vegas Showdown.  This is an easy game to learn, and doesn’t take very long to play. It is a basic auction game where several different items are available, and you need to manage your money to decide when to buy the right item.

In this game you own a hotel-casino in Las Vegas and are developing your property as the game proceeds.  Which player can create the best destination and build his fame in this town?  To do so you’ll need to bring in revenue (by adding slot machines and other gaming places in your casino), increase the population of patrons coming into your hotel (they like to eat at restaurants), and also increase your reputation with special destinations (nightclubs and theaters do nicely).

Let’s look first at your basic mat, with smpty spaces for development.  Off to the right is where your revenue (the dollar token) and your population (the meeple) are measured:


Each turn you bid on an item, and then place it on your mat.  Based on what you purchase, your revenue, population or fame will increase.  Then on the next turn you collect your income.  But your income is based on whichever is lower between your revenue and population.  So if you spend too much time focusing on adding gaming opportunities, your hotel business will lag behind. If you look at this next image, you can see how one player fared at the end of her game.  Her revenue at that point had reached 12 and the population is 16.  That means she was currently earning 12 in income each turn.


So maintaining a good balance is important.  Speaking of bidding, let’s look at the bidding board.  (Click on the image to see it full-sized; it will be easier to follow what I have to explain next.)


Your current fame is measured on that outside track with little stars (it’s really the same as victory points in other games I’ve reviewed).  In the middle are various items available for bidding.  Several are standard – slots (+1 revenue), lounges (+2 fame) and restaurants (+2 population).  The 4 at right are “premier tiles” which are more expensive but provide greater benefits.  For example, the sports book at lower right gives you +2 revenue.  So each round, the players in turn place a pyramid marker to make a bid on an item.  The bid amounts are staggered; each is 2 more than the previous.  Once everyone places an initial bid, anyone that was overbid has the opportunity to bid again – perhaps bidding even higher on that item, or switching to bid on something else.  Once all bids are resolved, players take their items and place them on their mats.

There are some restrictions on how items can be placed on your mat.  Yellow tiles must be linked to your casino entrance.  Blue tiles must be linked to the hotel entrance.  And green tiles can go anywhere.  Any tile you place must be connected to other tiles in some way – notice the walls and entrance doors on each tile.  So you’re trying to lay things down in a way that gives you options to put down more tiles in succession.  Also notice some tiles have red triangles on them.  These can be layed down in combinations to form diamonds, which are worth more bonus points at the end of the game.  You get fame points for full diamonds, and also for 3/4 diamonds.  Let’s look at a final layout for our player we talked about earlier.  She’s got a nice set-up here:

Introduction to...Vegas Showdown

Notice first of all that all of her yellow tiles are correctly placed as they can all be accessed from the casino entrance at left.  As for diamonds, she’s got a full diamond there in the center between the theater and the five-star steakhouse.  If the game were to continue, perhaps she could squeeze in some fancy slots next to the theater to create another 3/4 diamond.

Now, those premier tiles start pretty expensive – the starting bid is shown by the number in the square on the tile (the night club says 42).  But at the beginning of each round, the minimum price for each premier tile drops down by $4, so eventually they do get cheaper.  Maybe you want to save up for one of those big tiles anyway, so what do you do?  That’s where you may want to pick one of the other 2 options on the bidding board.  The first option is Publicity, which grants you 1 fame point, and costs you nothing.  The other option which is very handy later in the game is Renovation.  That allows you to pick up and move 1 or 2 tiles on your mat and rearrange them somewhere else.  Also, if you ever purchase an item you can’t place, choosing Renovation later will give you the option to put it on your map.  It’s also worth noting here that some tiles have prerequisites, so you have to have a particular tile on your mat before another can go down.  An example on our player’s mat above is the night club – it requires having a lounge first.  (Actually I took a little artistic license with the photo above – the five-star steakhouse has a prerequisite of a fancy restaurant, so placing that tile is invalid as shown.)

That all sounds relatively easy, but there is a deck of cards which adds some spice to the mix.  For every premier tile that is purchased, in the next round the starting player will flip over a card, which tells which tile stack to draw from (small square, rectangle, or large square).  And on the card you’ll have some instructions to follow.  Some cards restrict what can be bid on that round (“restaurant workers on strike”), others may increase or decrease the minimum bid price for premier tiles.  So these cards help keep things interesting, and lead to one of the ways the game can end.

The game ends when either a player has completely filled his mat, or when a card tells you to draw a particular type of tile that you have run out of.  At that point players tally up their final bonus points.  Bonus points are awarded for having full casino and hotel sections; for having a continuous path from one entrance to the other; for having the most revenue, population and cash; and for those little red diamonds we talked about earlier.  The player with the most points wins!

I’m a big fan of this game – even though I’m not very good at it!   Although there is a certain amount of repetition in how the game progresses, I find most players enjoy the challenge of creating their own floorplans.  Vegas Showdown is a good game for players at all skill levels. It is designed for 3-5 players but I prefer it with 4 or 5.  This is a relatively short game, taking only about an hour and 15 minutes. Vegas Showdown was published in the U.S. by Avalon Hill, although it is currently out of print. But don’t let that distract you from getting it – plenty of copies were printed, and it’s easily available from most websites, including Boards & Bits.

Thanks for reading my review – and I’ll be back soon with a beginner’s guide to Pandemic!

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Today I’d like to introduce you to another great “gateway game” for beginners – Carcassonne.   This is an easy game to learn, and also has a lot of expansions available if you enjoy the basic game.
The gameplay is devilishly simple – draw a tile, play a tile, a bit like Wasabi!.  But after each tile you have to make a choice – to play or not to play a meeple?  A “meeple” for those unfamiliar with the term, is a small piece of wood shaped like a person.  In Carcassonne you begin the game with a limited number of meeples, and must decide when it’s advantageous to use them.

First let’s focus on the tiles – they show a combination of cities, roads and cloisters.  A valid play of a tile must be in a way that makes logical sense – in other words you can’t have a road just appear out of a field – it must be connected to an existing road.  Likewise, a castle wall can’t just end in a field – it must be part of a continuous city wall.  Below is an image to give you an idea of how a set of tiles might turn out after you’ve been playing for awhile.  Notice how roads are continuous until they run off the board, and the same is true for city walls.

Introduction to...Carcassonne

Now let’s talk about the meeples – they are how you get points.  A meeple can only be put on a tile that you just placed, and can take on one of four roles.  A meeple placed on a road segment is a Thief; on a city segment he’s a Knight; on a cloister he’s a Monk; and out in the field (laying down) he’s a Farmer.  Each of them will score you points once a particular condition has been met.

Roads give a score to the Thief when that road had an intersection on both ends.  That’s either an intersection of roads (like the cross intersection at bottom left in the photo) or when a road terminates at a city or monastery.  The Thief then gets one point for each section of road in the road he’s on.  Note that roads could form a loop – if you had a Thief on that loop at bottom left, you’d score 4 points.

The Knight gives you 2 points for each city section when a castle wall is completed, forming a city.  You can see in the photo above that cities can be as small as 2 segments and as large as you can imagine.  Also some city segments have a blue and white shield, which is itself worth an additional 2 points.  So the city at middle left in the photo would score 22 points – 2 points for each city section (9 of them) and 2 points for each shield (2 of them).

The cloisters work a bit differently – you score 1 point for each surrounding tile when they are placed, as well as for the cloister itself.  So you can see in the middle of the photo that there are four cloisters there that would each score the full 9 points, as they are surrounded by all 8 necessary tiles (we’re counting diagonals here) to form a complete square.  The one at middle left would not get the full set of points because it’s missing one tile at left.

Farmers are the trickiest to master, and are often the key to winning the game.  A farm will score you 3 points for each completed city that is adjacent to the field your Farmer is working.  Fields are bounded by cities and roads.  In the photo above, both Farmers are working on one massive field, because it’s not cut off from any of the completed cities except for the one at top right.  It sounds a bit complicated, but the game comes with handy scoring instructions which give several illustrations as to how to score farms.

Players score as the game goes along for Thieves, Knights and Monks; Farmers are only scored at the end of the game.  That’s one key point to note – after you score a meeple, you get it back and can use it elsewhere.  So placing all Farmers is not a good idea!  You also get points for any meeples left on the table at the end of the game – Thieves still score the full amount (so 1 point for each road section), Knights earn you only 1 point for each city segment and shield, and Monks earn you the full amount for each tile that is in place (so if a Monk was on the cloister at middle left in the photo, he’d score 1 points x 8 tiles down = 8 points).  The game ends after the last tile is placed (and that player has a chance to place her last meeple if she has one.

Sounds a bit complicated, but it’s actually relatively simple once you get the hang of it.  The strategy in the game involves deciding when to place your meeples, and how to get in on the big points.  Because there’s a little wrinkle in placing meeples – you can’t place one where another player has clearly already got control of something (city, road or farm).  But there’s a way around that – let’s say that Joey has put a meeple in the city segment at bottom left in the photo above.  Mary wants in on that business, so she places a tile to the left of that where the field is connected, but the city segments only touch at the bottom left corner, and then she puts a meeple on her placed city segment.  At this point, the 2 cities are not clearly connected, so the play is valid.  Should another tile then be placed that makes those 2 cities into 1 big city, then both players would get a full score for that city.  Joey doesn’t like that, so then he plays tiles in such a way that eventually he gets 2 meeples into the city versus just 1 for Mary.  He now gets the full score, and Mary gets nothing.  Nasty!  This “majority rules” strategy is valid for cities, roads and farms.  Now I hope you get the idea of how player interaction works in the game – you’ve got to pay attention to what everyone is doing all the time!

Overall I’m a definite fan of this game – I like that it plays quickly and scales well for different group sizes.  Although there is a significant element of luck (i.e. randomly selecting tiles to play), deciding what to do after you draw a tile is all skill.

Carcassonne is a good game for players at all skill levels.  It is designed for 2-5 players and scales well for all those sizes of groups; you’ll just notice that your strategy has to change a bit depending on the number of players.  This is a short game, which takes only about 45 minutes (a bit longer for first-timers).  Carcassonne is published in the U.S. by Rio Grande Games.  If you enjoy the game, you can get a bunch of expansions which offer more tiles and new ways to play.  The basic game is now packaged with the River expansion (which you can see in the photo above).  Another one that’s very handy to have is the Inns & Cathedrals expansion, which will allow you to have up to 6 players.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s review!  Next time I’ll be talking about a very different type of game that involves player cooperation – Pandemic.

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Introduction to…Colosseum

For today’s game I want to introduce you to one that’s become a standby favorite in our house – Colosseum.  Picture it – ancient Rome!  The emperor and his cronies have come to town, and they are looking for a good show to see.  Can you be the event promoter able to put on the most attractive entertainment in town?
The gameplay happens in 5 rounds, each of which consists of several phases.  In the first phase, players decide how they might want to improve their colosseums.  Perhaps you want to expand the size?  Sell some season tickets?  Or build a special loge for the emperor to sit in?  Eventually you’ll use this time to purchase a more elaborate program.  A bit like Wasabi!, you begin the game working with two simple programs to put on, each of which involves several elements.  It could be everything from a lion cage match to a musical with comedians and elaborate set pieces.  People will be more likely to come see your show depending on how big it is and how many aspects of the program you have available.

That’s where the next phase comes in – you bid on a number of market stalls that each contain 3 tiles used in putting on a program.  This is where you balance your need for cash to make improvements versus how badly you need to get the right elements to mount your production.  After the bidding is over (each player will get a chance to win one stall), players have a chance to barter and trade with each other.  Are you willing to sacrifice your extra gladiator to help an opponent, knowing that you’ll be getting that precious priest in return?  There are also bonuses when you have the most of one kind of tile – you are blessed with a star performer!  That gets you some bonus points when putting on your show.

At this point each player has the opportunity to put on his or her production.  You begin that by rolling the dice and trying to move any nobles into your colosseum.  Then depending on how many tiles you have that are required for the program, you score the corresponding number of points.

photo copyright Days of Wonder

photo copyright Days of Wonder

To end the round, there is a “closing ceremony.”  The player with the highest scoring program earns a special podium (worth more points next time around), and then all players discard one of the tiles they used in the program they just produced.  Finally, the player in last place gets the chance to steal a tile from the player in the lead.  Intrigue!

The game continues in this manner for all five rounds, and the player who scored the best program over the course of the game wins.

As you can see, the game offers the player a lot of options, and can be great fun for your inner theater geek!  But I do find there are a couple of downsides to this game.  First of all, the roll of the dice to move the nobles adds a significant luck element which can defy even the best strategic player.  If you are continually unlucky in rolls, you can be losing out on some good bonus points.  Also this game can suffer from “Monopoly syndrome” – you may have people playing that are unwilling to make trades, stubbornly sticking with what they have, even in the face of a really good deal.  That can frustrate a player who is behind and desperate to get ahead.  All that being said, I do find I can really get lost in this game, and want to play it whenever anyone is willing!

Colosseum is a good match for players with at least moderate experience in gaming.  It is designed for 3-5 players but I think it works best with 4 or 5.  This is a longer game, which can take from 1 – 2 hours depending on how much players agonize over their choices.  Colosseum is another winner from Days of Wonder.

I’ve still got a lot more games that I’ve received recently, so stay tuned for more reviews!

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Introduction to…Wasabi!

Before I introduce you to another board game, I wanted to give a little insight into contemporary games and their fans.  After reading my reviews, you may be starting to think, “Hey!  What’s wrong with the classics?  I love my box of Monopoly!”

The answer is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with those games, but put it in the context of history.  At the time these games were first published (1935 for Monopoly), they had some spark about them that caught the public’s imagination and they took off.  Some may have found a new way to feature an old game mechanic, and others just matched the times.  Monopoly, for example, came out in the midst of the Great Depression, when the idea of being able to buy and sell real estate freely had a certain appeal.

But the main drawback or complaint that “serious gamers” have with these games is generally about the game’s mechanics, often that they rely too much on luck and don’t require much (if any) skill.  I mean, Chutes and Ladders is nice for kids, but it’s really just a game about rolling a die.  Contemporary games on the other hand generally feature a host of choices for the player, putting an emphasis on skill.  It’s this freedom of choice that attracts so many fervent fans of the European-style games.

So for today’s game let’s talk about one that offers a good amount of choice with a small dose of luck thrown in, building on the classic mechanic of games like Connect Four.  It’s called Wasabi!

In this game you are a sushi chef, and your goal is to make a set number of recipes as quickly and accurately as possible.  Recipes require between 2 and 5 ingredients, and you’ll need to do a mix of those to win the game, or achieve the best score when the sushi mat is filled.

The gameplay involves selecting and placing tiles that feature the various ingredients – everything from shrimp and salmon to rice and blowfish.  There are a few rare items (like octopus) which appear only once each, and are all featured only in the 5-ingredient recipes.  On your turn you place a tile and then select a new one to add back to your hand.  Along the way you attempt to complete 1 or more of the 3 recipe cards in your “menu.”  Once you complete one, you get to score it, take a new recipe, and select a bonus card.

Introduction to...Wasabi!

To complete a recipe, you need to get all the ingredients in your recipe in one row (horizontal or vertical) on the board.  You can build off of what other players have put down, but the last tile placed to complete a recipe must be your own.  Scoring is simple, with smaller recipes earning less points.  But if you are able to get the ingredients in the same order as they appear on your card, you have completed the recipe “with style” and get to take a number of green wasabi cubes to add to your cute little dish; each cube is worth 1 point.  If a player completes all his required recipes first,  he automatically wins.  But if the game ends by the board being filled, the player with the most points (between recipes and wasabi cubes) wins.

The complications arise with those bonus cards, which offer you extra actions to take on your turn.  You can either go with Spicy (play 2 tiles), Switch (switch 2 adjacent tiles), Stack (place one tile on another), or Chop (remove the top tile from a stack, or a solo tile).  This layering and moving around of tiles is what keeps things interesting, as you must plan ahead – you get just one action with a bonus card, and then must return it, and can’t hold more than 2 bonus cards at any time.  There is also the dreaded Wasabi card, which is placed on the board to cover up 4 spaces.  That can either be used offensively to block your opponents from playing in key areas, or perhaps to accelerate the game towards its end if you think you’re winning.
And that’s it!  It’s a simple game that’s easily learned and doesn’t take long to play.  It offers enough variety and skill to please “serious gamers” but is accessible enough that anyone (even kids!) can enjoy it.  My only concern with the game is that everyone’s score is displayed on the table, so there’s not much mystery as to who is winning.  A new house rule we’ve instituted is that you hide your wasabi cubes behind your menu, thus keeping at least that much a secret.

Wasabi! is a good match for players at all levels of experience in gaming.  It is designed for 2-4 players and works well with all those sizes.  This is a short game, which should take only 45 – 60 minutes.  Wasabi! is published by Z-Man Games.

I hope you’re enjoying these game reviews, because I’m having fun writing them.  And I’ve got a lot more games to trot out in front of you (hooray for Christmas and my birthday!).  Good gaming to you!

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If you’ve been reading my beginner reviews, then you should have a good handle on German-style games by now.  And if you can handle those, then you’re ready for a slightly bigger challenge with The Princes of Florence.

Picture it – the Italian Renaissance.  As a wealthy patron, you want to encourage culture in the city of Florence by providing a proper environment for creativity.  You may have artists, craftsmen and scientists working in and around your palazzo, but they each have their own peculiar preferences.  Some may like a quiet park, others crave the freedom to travel and others may need a proper studio.

Introduction to...The Princes of Florence

Each one of 7 rounds begins with an auction phase.  Players bid on landscapes and jesters, but also can choose to hire other professionals.  In addition there are two special types of cards that are up for bids – a Recruitment card (where you can hire an opponent’s professional) or a Prestige card (which can give you bonus points at the end of the game).  The other crucial thing up for bid is a Builder – depending on the number of Builders you employ, you can reduce the price of Buildings, and allow you to place them in adjacent spaces on your game board.  But only one of each type of item can be won each round, so the bidding can get very competitive!

In the second phase, each player can perform 2 actions.  Your options are to buy and place a Building, a Freedom (Travel, Religion and Opinion), Bonus cards (which I’ll explain in a minute), or produce a work.

To produce a work, you select one of your professionals to do their thing (write a play, for example).  A professional creates a work of greater value based on how happy he is in your space – the value increases if you have the right combination of Freedom, Building and Landscape, as well as for any Jesters you employ.  But each round the minimum Work Value you must achieve increases, so it becomes more difficult as the game progresses.  This is where Bonus cards come in – they can potentially increase the value of your work.  As an example, a card may say that you can increase the Work Value by 2 for each type of Landscape you have on your property.

At the end of the phase, the player who produced the highest valued work earns bonus victory points.  Then each player is given an amount of money equal to the value of his work.  However, this is where you must make a crucial decision – you can elect to take only part of the money, and instead take the difference in victory points, at a rate of 2 to 1.  For example, if your Work Value was 16, you could choose to only take 10 Florins, and then trade the balance (6 Florins) to take 3 victory points.  Victory points can also be earned for placing buildings, for placing more than one of the same type of Landscape, or through Prestige cards that you have fulfilled at the game’s end.  And naturally, the player with the most victory points wins the game.

The Princes of Florence is a good match for players with moderate to advanced experience in gaming.  This game is pretty easy to pick up the first time, although strategy and intricacies will take time to learn.  It is designed for 2-5 players; I definitely prefer it with either 4 or 5.  This is a medium-length game, which can run from 60 – 90 minutes depending on how quickly the bidding goes.  The Princes of Florence is published by Rio Grande Games.

If you are ready for a game that offers a good amount of interaction and a low element of luck, then I heartily recommend this one.  This is one of our regular favorites, assuming we’re ready to scream and shout a little bit during fierce auctions!

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