Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Shadows Over Innistrad is the latest set in Magic’s Arena of the Planeswalker line. It’s a full, base set, so you don’t need the first set to play like you did with Battle for Zendikar. Since I’ve already reviewed Arena of the Planeswalkers, I’ll cut to the chase with this new set.

If you were to only buy one Arena of the Planeswalker products, Shadows Over Innistrad would be the one to get. The box is packed full of great stuff, and even though you only get 4 Planeswalkers (the fifth figure is the werewolf form of another) you get more bang for your buck than with the original base set.

For starters, three of the four Planeswalkers are multicolored: Sorin (black/white), Nahiri (red/white), and Arlinn (red/green). You also get more miniatures overall in the box, including new Hero units. These are basically an in-between. More powerful than regular minions, but not as powerful as Planeswalkers. The Cryptoliths (plastic tree-like things) can be destroyed, unlike terrain in the original set.

MTG AOP Shadows Over Innistrad GameOverall Shadows Over Innistrad comes across as more polished that the original base set. It’s also the same price, $30.

So like I said earlier: if you were to only to get one Arena of the Planeswalkers sets, this is the one to get. Realistically? Get one of each. Having all the extra figures, spells, and Planeswalkers only makes the game that much better. While the release schedule of items isn’t as aggressive as Heroscape’s was, that may be the saving grace in the end of Arena of the Planeswalkers. It would be really nice to see them do a base set, small expansion, then repeat the pattern each year.

A copy of Magic: The Gathering – Arena of the Planeswalkers: Shadows Over Innistrad was provided free for review by Hasbro.

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Second Look—ZIPANG -Portable-

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.ZIPANG -Portable- is a quick little card game by Engine ID that’ll be hitting Kickstarter soon. It’s a precursor to a larger board game currently being developed by the company. It’s actually available now via The Game Crafter for those who want an early look at the game, similar to the experience I had with it.

ZIPANG plays a bit like Love Letter. There’s only a few cards, each of which has a special power. Unlike Love Letter, you can attack your fellow players to knock them out of a round. Of course there’s ways for them to defend themselves. The goal in the end is to have the most Mangoku Coins at the end of the game, which ends when one player is completely out of the coins.

e2e4c5e3c362f0dcae08d1eede05358e840371cfYou can see the full rules of the game here. These are the latest rules sent to me by the designer, but they are still a work in progress.

Gameplay is clever, the artwork is colorful and enthralling. There’s plenty of great card combos here, and lots of tough choices to make during play. Do you attack with a high powered card, or save that card in your hand to work as your defense? Do you play a great special power, or keep that card because it’s high Honor value might win you the round if the Emperor is played?

You can snag the early-release version of ZIPANG from The Game Crafter for $24. If you want to wait for the Kickstarter, a pledge of $19 will get you a copy of the game if the project is funded. If you want to go the print-and-play route there will also be a $5 pledge-level for that.

The kids and I really enjoyed this one. It’s quick, easy to learn, and has enough strategy to keep us coming back from more. I initially didn’t know what to expect from this one, and was pleasantly surprised with how good it really is.

A copy of ZIPANG -Portable- was provided free for review by Engine ID.

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Second Look—Hanna Honeybee

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Hanna Honeybee is part of HABA’s My Very First Games line, a line aimed at kids 2+ years old. Having a 2-year-old in the house,  I jumped at the opportunity to give the game a try. The game is very simple, with colorful components and a great little gimmick that had my little guy squealing with delight.

Let’s start with that. Hanna Honeybee’s box is also an important part of the game. There’s a cardboard insert that fits into the box with a slot on the top and a ramp on the bottom. In each game flower tiles are inserted in the top slot and flipped over to their honey side before being sent out the bottom. Every time we play my son exclaims “Honey!” whenever a tile comes sliding out. Laughter follows for a while and we can continue play.

There’s two ways to play Hanna Honeybee. The first involves rolling a die and moving the wooden Hanna token over to a flower of that color. Then the tile is inserted into the box and the honey that comes out is placed in the honey pot. Players work together to fill the honey pot with 6 honey tiles. Be careful, though! If you roll a wilted flower then one of the flowers is removed from the game. The goal here is color recognition, taking turns, and following mutli-step directions.

302199_4c_f_mes_hanni_honigbiene_usa_01The second way to play adds a little memory into the game. All the flower tiles are flipped to the honey side, and the players must try and find the color flower that they rolled. Didn’t find the right color? That’s OK! You can take another turn if you can successfully name the color of the flower you did turn over. Once you find the right color Hanna can take the flower, turn it into honey, and place it in the honey pot. Once again, 6 honey tiles in the honey pot wins the game, and a wilted flower roll removes a tile.

Like I said before, the games are very simple. However, they’re great for a 2-year-old. My toddler asks to play all the time, and always multiple times in a row. He loves moving Hanna to the flowers, and loves placing them in the hive to be flipped even more.

You can snag Hanna Honeybee for $27.99 from HABA’s site. I highly recommend you do if you’ve got children in the age range. I know we’re happy with the game, and will be gifting copies to family members this holiday season.

A copy of Hanna Honeybee was provided free for review by HABA.


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Second Look—Mystic Vale

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Mystic Vale, a game I’ve been eagerly awaiting since I first saw the initial thoughts on the system during Toy Fair 2015, is AEG’s new deck building game. The gimmick here? AEG’s Card Crafting System. Instead of buying cards each turn, you’re buying advancements that can be sleeved into your base cards. Through various card combinations you’ll get more mana to spend, icons to purchase Vale Cards that give you even more power, and victory points. VP can either be active, earned every time the card is drawn,  or inactive, awarded at the end of the game. The game ends when the VP pool is emptied, then all VP are calculated. Highest VP wins the game. The video below lays out everything fairly well:

How does it play? I’ve played with my kids, and we all really enjoyed it. My 6-year-old really took to the game well, and pulled a win during our first game! The push-your-luck element initially seemed to be a pain, but with clever card crafting really comes into it’s own and can be a powerful tool to getting many cards out on the table. The card crafting system has some cool combos that can be made, and feels like it can really be expanded on in the future.

My only real complaints are that the game takes a bit to ramp up. Initial turns seem a bit slow and unproductive only to have the pace of the game rapidly increase for a shorter endgame once you’ve crafted some powerful cards. There’s also no real player interaction. It’s very much a solo game of trying to ramp up and empty the VP pool.

Mystic Vale is a fun deck builder, and the card crafting mechanic is pretty cool. Ramp up is a bit slow, but that’s something that could probably be fixed by seeding some already crafted cards into the base decks. I highly recommend playing it first before purchase, if possible. It may not be for everyone, but I can tell it’s a game that’ll get a lot of play in my house.

A copy of Mystic Vale was provided free for review by AEG.

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Second Look—Aurora

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.“Who are we? Where are We from?”

I first saw Aurora at CT FIG 2016 while playing Elements at the Rampage Games booth. Not having time to play that day, Rampage sent me a copy of my own to checkout. I finally had a chance to sit down and play with my kids, and was surprised what a competent little set collection game it is.

Aurora is a game about creating star systems that can support sentient life. It was a submission to The Game Crafter’s Learning Game Challenge, and made it to the finals.

Each round you’re creating or expanding star systems trying to meet all the requirements for intelligence. Every card in your star system also provides a certain amount of either Water, Carbon, or Oxygen. Building your levels of these resources earn you bonuses throughout the game. There’s also event cards that can be played to help yourself or hinder other players. Once a round is over you can save up to three cards, pass the rest to the player on the left, then draw up to 6 cards for a max hand size of 8. Play continues until either one person develops intelligence, has life in three star systems, or maxes out their resource tracks. It plays in about 30 minutes, and the kids and I had a blast while playing.

A546EA2A-DE5C-11E5-99B2-01E05D26D2FFThere are a few pitfalls, though. The rules aren’t as clear as they could be, and make the game seem a bit more complicated than it really is. Also, the colors on some of the components, especially the reference guide and rule book, blend a bit and make the text hard to read in some areas. Overall these aren’t really deal breakers, but are items that can be fixed to make Aurora a much more solid package.

Aurora packs a lot of game into a deck of cards. Between the multiple paths to victory and drafting mechanics, it provides a good amount of depth is a short period of time. It’s also easy enough to play with kids. My 6-year-old was able to grasp the game well enough to play on his own after a few rounds, and my 9-year-old pulled out a surprise victory by developing intelligence on our first play of the game.

A copy of Aurora was provided free for review by Rampage Games.

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Second Look—Grimslingers

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Grimslingers may come in a small box, but there’s a lot of game packed in there. Not packed well, but packed all the same.

Inside said box is two games. A dueling game, and a cooperative adventure. Both share some cards, but there’s also cards that are pretty much used in one or the other. Everything is kind of just tossed into the box when you’re done, so you’re doing to have to find your own solution for keeping things organized.

Does that in any way, shape, or form diminish the game? No. Not at all.

In Grimslingers, the rules have you starting off with a simple duel. No extra cards, no fancy rules You choose your character, anima, and get a hand of spell cards. The character and anima you choose are just polish, as there’s no player powers or the like. At that point it’s setup your turn, play a spell, resolve for damage. Certain spells trump other ones, but there’s a deck of numbered cards to use if neither spell trumps the other. Then it’s taking turns drawing these cards trying to get as close to 11 as possible without going over. The person that does has their spell resolve.

GrimslingersDuels then get a bit more complicated from there as you add in the advanced rules, and more cards. All of this is really just to prepare you for the co-op adventure mode which has it’s own story book for playing through various scenarios. Does it all pull together in the end?

Yes. An overwhelming yes.

While there’s a lot to take in, the game plays wonderfully, and drips with theme. The duels are great for a quick play, but the game really shines in co-op. The game sessions are longer, but there’s monsters to beat, treasure to take, and you can level your character over the course of play. It’s pushing into RPG territory at that point.

While it may be a bit harder to get this to the table with my kids, it’s one that I’m going to make sure I make time to sit down and play. There’s a story to finish, and I want to finish it!

Grimslingers is currently available for pre-order for $29.95, and will ship September 1st. You can also buy just the Duels version for $9.95. While it’s nice that you can buy the stripped down version, the full deal is the way to go.

A copy of Grimslingers was provided free for review by Greenbrier Games.

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Second Look—Dragon Run

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.This must be the week for dragons, because here comes a look at Blue Orange Games’ Dragon Run. I’ve actually had this one for a while, and now seemed the perfect time to post about it.

Designed by Bruno Cathala, Dragon Run is a push-your-luck game of escaping a dragons cave with the most treasure…and without dying. Each turn players can charge blindly into the dragons lair, sneak carefully in, or cry like a baby. Charging lets you grab the most loot. Sneaking gets you some, and calms the dragon a bit, and crying like a baby give you a pass, but you lose some loot.

Of course just running in and grabbing look would be too easy, right? Some cards give you treasure. Some let you keep drawing. One is the dragon’s fiery breath. Get that and lose one of your two hit points. Die and you’re out of the game. Have the most treasure when the dragon loses interest in everyone and you win the game!

t355_cdbb33bf3aa0d087c7662ef1bc9432deOf course there’s more to it than that, but not much. Each character has a special ability that’ll help them out in the quest for loot. Also, while there’s nothing like watching other people get toasted, if everyone dies then the dragon wins. So it’s not always in your best interest to leave the other players without a little support.

Dragon Run is light, fast, and a really fun time. While you’re not getting a ton of components for your $25, you’re getting a great game. I’m a big fan of Blue Orange, and this is one of the best I’ve played from them.

A copy of Dragon Run was provided for free for review by Blue Orange Games.

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Second Look—Dragon Flame

Dragon FlameWhile Robert has us on the subject of dragons, let’s talk about Minion Games’ Dragon Flame. Similar in theme to Wrath of Dragons—you play the rampaging wyrms—Dragon Flame, though, presents a lighter but still strategically satisfying experience.

The first part of Dragon Flame has players seeding castles with treasures, one-at-a-time placing treasure cards on the central castles in combinations that they hope will maximize the value of the castle stacks for themselves and minimize their value for the other players. Some of the castles are limited in the number of treasure cards they can take. And depending on what a player accomplished on the previous turn, some number of the treasure cards they play will have to be face-up or face-down.

The second part of the game sees the players acting their parts as dragons, taking turns to attack a castle and grab the treasure cards there. Each type of treasure in a dragon’s hoard at the end of the game scores glory points in a different fashion. For example, jewelry cards are worth a straight number. Statues are worth five points each but only if there are no duplicates. Chests are each worth one point per chest of the same type (thus, their value increases quickly), but this only applies to the single greatest collection of chests. Each chest of another type in a dragon’s hoard results in a penalty of one point.

Dragonflame cards are special. Any in a player’s selected stack gives them a run at burning villages. For every icon on the cards, they can place a flame token on one of a set of village cards. At the end of the game, the dragon who’s contributed the most to burning down a village scores its points.

For me, Dragon Flame’s fun comes from quick but strategic play with a fair amount of back-and-forth positioning player against player. Also, though there may not be dragon meeples, it does come with wood fire tokens to light up pesky human villages.

Dragon Flame Castles

Dragon Flame Villages

Dragon Flame Burning Tokens

A complimentary copy of Dragon Flame was provided by Minion Games for review.

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Second Look—Wrath of Dragons

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Wrath of Dragons is a Resource Destruction game by Catalyst Game Labs. I first got a chance to play at PAX East this year after seeing the dragon on the box and immediately requesting a demo. Filled with crunchy bits and amazing art, the game uses several popular Euro mechanics to provide a fun and satisfying gaming experience.

Played over the course of 6 centuries (rounds), players will place their dragons on actions, draft cards, and head to various areas of the board to pillage and destroy. The game has a great mechanic where one player will get the First Action token, while another gets a First Attack token. Both have their advantages, and no player can hold both at the same time.

Through clever play, proper resource management, and manipulation of the central action wheel, players will move around the board capturing nobles, burning crops, destroying cities, and eating livestock. Dragons can also level up, allowing them move flexibility over the course of the game. At the end of 6 centuries players will tally up their victory points to determine the victor. Conditions like having the most of a certain resource, having a full set of colored buildings destroyed, or owning the Terrorize Tile will add to your total.

dragonsIs Wrath of Dragons worth the $60 price tag? I think so. I’m a huge fan of dragons, so that’s a win right there. Combine that with a small learning curve, lots of choices, may paths to victory, and some really great art and bits and you’ve got a solid Euro on your hands.

It’s not a game I would have expected to come out of Catalyst, but I’m sure glad it did.

A copy of Wrath of Dragons was provided free for review by Catalyst Game Labs.

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Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Today I’ve got a trio of HABA games to go over: Mix and Match Robbers, Tambuzi, and Space Planets. My thoughts on the three vary a good amount, but overall my kids really enjoyed all three. Myself? We’ll get to that.

First off if Mix and Match Robbers, a game of speed matching. Each round a new head, torso, and set of legs are flipped over from 3 separate decks. These three cards will show you the robber that needs to be caught. The players then search all the face up characters and try to find the one that matches the revealed robber. The player who finds it first get that card as part of their victory pool. The game ends when there’s no more combination cards left, or no more matching character cards in the pool. The player with the most robbers wins the game.
300633_4c_f_mix_max_raeuber_englisch_01It’s light, fun, and I was even able to play this one with my 2-year-old son (though he’s a bit slower than the older kids). It’s fast, and only costs $7.49. Will it have much staying power in my household? I’m guessing the kids may take it out now and then over the summer, but will probably tire of it quickly. It’s a great game for me to take out and play alone with my youngest, so I can see it getting more play that way. I’d recommend this up to age 6, max.

Next up is Tambuzi, a larger game with an electronic component that plays sounds, dictates how players move, and signals a round’s end. We we really excited to play this one, but it kinda fell flat for me. Each player has two tokens that they’ll move around the board while trying to get the animals to shelter, or at least not outside the board when lightning strikes. The electronic component has a button that players press to dictate their movement, or allow them to enter a hut if they’re next to one. After a while it’ll also emit a crack of thunder. Whichever player is off the board (the player currently moving) will have that piece removed from the game. Play continues until only 3 animals are left on the board, and then points are added up.

7180_tambuziThe trick here is that you need to play really fast. When you hit the button you get a movement number between one and three. You can also get a hut. When you move, you move outside the board in a clockwise motion. If you land next to a space with an animal on a door mat you swap with that animal and that player then hits the button. If the other animal is already in a hut, you hit the button and move again. If you happen to be next to a hut and get the hut icon, you move inside, swapping with the animal already in there if there is one. If you’re on a blank space, you go again. The goal is to do as much as you can, as fast as you can, so another player gets caught outside when lightning strikes.

You keep playing, with the highest scoring player getting a water token, until all the water tokens are gone. The player with the most tokens at the end winds. To tell you the truth, the game feels way too long playing that way, so my kids and I basically just played until the end of one round, and the person with the highest score won. My 6-year-old son and 10-year-old son enjoy the game to a point, but usually stop after a couple of times. I really didn’t like this one, as it’s purely luck, with nothing really happening except hitting the button as fast as you can. Basically musical chairs with a savanna theme. At $35.99, personally I’d skip it. It’s probably the first HABA game I’ve ever suggested to skip.

301773_4c_f_space_planets_05Last, but most certainly not least, is Space Planets. This one really hit all the right buttons for me, my 6-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter, and 10-year-old son. It’s a dexterity game where you’re trying to roll a die onto a card in a 3×3 grid. If you’ve got enough fuel you can snag the card, and maybe even get a bonus if there’s one listed on the card. Can’t buy it? That’s OK, you can use the roll to refuel.

Each card is worth a certain amount of points, and like I said earlier, some let you take special actions. Once one player has taken five tiles each player takes one more turn and the game is over. The player with the highest points wins. Plants are worth what they say, and any extra fuel you have left over can be converted to 2-1 for points, too. It’s really quick to set up, simple to learn, and a whole lot of fun.

Space Planets may be one of my new favorite HABA games, and I can see this one coming out for play time and time again in our house. At $11.99, this one is a no-brainer to purchase if you’ve got kids in the house. If you were to get only one of the three games I’ve covered here, this would be the one to get.

Anyway, there you have it. I always love getting the chance to play HABA games because you generally can’t go wrong. While Tambuzi wasn’t my cup of tea, my kids did enjoy it. Mix and Match Robbers provides a good amount of play for the price, and Space Planets is a gem.

Copies of Mix and Match Robbers, Tambuzi, and Space Planets were provided free for review by HABA.

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