Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.That’s a pretty long title for a Second Look article, right? Well it’s only a fitting introduction to 4 fantastic little-big games from designer Daniel Solis of Smart Play Games. Daniel has been working overtime putting smaller card games onto DriveThruCards for pretty amazing prices. He shot me over the 4 aforementioned games for review and the kids and I readily dug into, and thoroughly enjoyed, them. I’m going to write about them in the order we played them in, and this is by no means in any kind of order of which games I/we enjoyed the most/least.

Light Rail

Light Rail was the first of the Smart Play Games to hit the table. It’s quick, light, easy to learn, and a bit tricky to actually put what you’ve learned into being a productive player. Each player gets a deck of a certain color. Those are your rails. Some cards have rails with buildings, some just rails, and some have the ends of track. You want to lay track, and have the most of your color on the track when the line is closed off to score based off the number and types of buildings on the line. You also have to keep track of the city limits, which changes with the number of players you have in the game. This game was a complete winner with the kids, who immediately linked the closed-rail/building-scoring mechanic to that of closed-roads/children in Kids of Carcassonne. At $9.99, you can’t go wrong here.

Koi Pond

My favorite of the bunch, Koi Pond has a bit more depth than the rest of the group. It has a very Knizia like feel to it, though with a much neater tied in theme than your typical Reiner-fare. Koi Pond is a clever game of fish management. You need to balance out the number/color of the fish in your pond, as well as your hand, because you’ll only score on the lower of the two. You also need to pay attention to what fish you toss back in the river (your discard pile) because special cards will also allow other players to score off those fish. This one was a bit harder to teach the kids, but they got it enough to play, and my 4 year old even won (with a bit of help.) The cards area beautiful, and the game is just meaty enough to constitute more than filler. This one also only costs $9.99, and will give you the best bang for your buck out of the 4 games I’m covering here.

Monsoon Market

I would consider Light Rail to be very light, and Koi Pond meaty. Monsoon Market falls smack-dab in the middle. East to learn, fun to play, and not as much mental score-keeping going on as in Koi Pond. The game has you collecting resources and trying to fill orders to earn victory points, and sometimes even free goods. There’s rules for completing orders perfectly, with overflow, or with just whatever you’ve got on the table. Each of these methods earn you a different reward, and some order cards give you an extra action when completed. Play to a certain about of VP and then play one more hand. The game comes down to that last play more than you’d think it would. I played this with my 7-year-old daughter, and she managed to lock it down on her last play even though I was pretty sure I was going to wipe the floor with her. Go figure. Monsoon Market is a bit newer, and costs $11.99. In my opinion this may be the most versatile games of the group, appealing to a wider audience with it’s gameplay.

Suspense: The Card Game

Inspired by the recent trend of micro games, Suspense is a game with only 13 cards. Don’t be fooled, though, there’s a lot of play in those 13 cards. Each card has a color (black or white), a number (1-6), and a winning condition on it. There’s an extra “?” card in there too. Players get a hand of cards depending on the number of players, and the last card is placed face down in the center of the table as the secret card. Players play cards, pass, or fold while trying to guess what the winning condition of the secret card is. The more cards played, the better chance of knowing what’s left over on the secret cards. There’s also more chance for someone else to meet that winning condition. The game plays very quickly, but lives up to it’s age recommendation well. This one was a bit over my younger kids’ heads, though we still had fun laughing and trying to figure out the secret condition. The real deal here? The game is only $3.19. Ultra portable, quickly played, and inexpensive. You can’t beat that combination with a stick.

I’ve played some of Daniel’s earlier games, such as Happy Birthday Robot and Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, so I knew to expect beautifully illustrated and well thought out games. Daniel delievered on those expectations, and I have a feeling I’ll be picking up more of his card games from DriveThruCards for the holidays. Both for my family, and to give as gifts. You can’t go wrong with any of the four games I talked about, and you’d be still be getting a great deal if you purchased all of them right now.

Copies of each of the games were provided free for review by Smart Play Games.