Second Look—Trickster Fantasy and Tianxia

pic2559590_mdDaniel Solis has a really strong track record in my opinion. I’ve enjoyed every game I’ve played of his over the years, and Trickster is no exception. For those unfamiliar, Trickster is a trick playing series of card games that share core rules, but have different themes and special card powers. I’ve played the two current decks, Fantasy and Tianxia. Fantasy is kind of the introductory deck, with simple card powers and colorful fantasy characters. Tianxia contains powers that require a bit more thought with their use, but add an awesome new flavor to play. The cool part? You can mix and match between decks.

Core gameplay is simple. Each round has a leader and a trickster that dictate how the other players need to play their cards. All card powers are resolved when that card is played. Each player follows by playing a card that follows the rules set by the leader and trickster. If a player can’t then they have to take the pot of cards into their house. If each player can play a card, then the trickster takes the pot. Whoever ends up with the pot becomes the leader for the next round.

Game play continues until a player has no more cards in their hand (this condition may change depending on the number of players.) Then cards in the house are counted up, and the winner is the player with the least amount in their house. There’s two things to remember here. A player with cards still in their hand must place them in their house before scoring. Also, the player with the most cards of a suit doesn’t have to score those cards.

It seems very simple, but it’s the card powers that make the game really shine.

I’ve played both Fantasy and Tianxia with my kids (5, 8, and 10) and they all really enjoyed them. My 5 year old took a bit more time to learn the powers, but now knows each in the Fantasy deck by the icons on the cards. The Tianxia deck is still a bit much for him, though he hasn’t given up on it yet!

Daniel has 2 more decks on the way, Starship and Symbiosis. I’ve had a look at the print-and-play playtest decks, and they’re looking really good. I haven’t had a chance to try them out just yet, but I’m eagerly awaiting a chance to do so.

Both decks are an excellent deal. Fantasy is normally $15, but is currently $6.74. Tianxia is normally $12, but is also currently $6.74. My recommendation would be to head over to DriveThruCards right now and snag both.

A copy of Trickster: Tianxia was provided free for review by Smart Play Games. A copy of Trickster: Fantasy was purchased on my own for review.


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Heir to Europa

17307132028_266f75315f_bSmart Play Games has just released Heir to Europa on DriveThruCards. Those familiar with Daniel Solis and Smart Play Games might find something different about this release. Daniel isn’t the designer.

That’s right. Heir to Europa, designed by Nick Ferris with art by Marisha Lozada, is the first title published by Smart Play Games that wasn’t designed by Daniel.

On the game, players compete for the throne of Europa. At its heart, it’s a trick-taking game with a bit of specialty added in to keep things fresh and interesting. It looks terribly exciting, and if it’s got Smart Play Games behind it then I’m sure it’s quality.

You can snag Heir to Europa for $9.99 on DriveThruCards.

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Gifts for the Game Collection

There’s a gamer in your life, but you don’t know what to surprise them with as a gift. There are deck-builders, dice fests, worker-placement games, area-control games, and all sorts of different types of games (and so many!) — it’s tough to just pick that perfect game for your perfect gamer. Instead of giving a gift for them, why not give them something for their game collection?

Replacement Money and Score Counters

There’s something about the tactile experience of props in games, from the foam guns in Ca$h ‘N Gun$ to the paper money in Monopoly. Purple Pawn suggests upgrading your game collections money and scoring counters with one of these three suggestions:

Bird Bucks from Smart Play Games. For less than $7, you can replace money and score counters with a thicker thematic card deck. Featuring fifty cards numbered 0-9 with a sharply designed monetary look, these cards can be used as score keepers and as a clever tool for budding game designers.

A Poker Chip Set. Gamers who dislike paper money in their board games can use a standard set of poker chips as a replacement. When looking for a poker chip set, look for chips that are about 11.5 grams or higher for the weight and feel. Plus, they make a satisfying CLUNK when tossed onto a game table. Added bonus: poker chip sets can also be used for playing poker! Amazing!

Campaign Coins. A fantastic set of coins and counters available in many different styles and metals, these coins are absolutely luxurious to hold and use. You can create a specific collection of coins or just go for the King’s Ransom, a custom set intended for use with board games. Wonderfully designed, these coins are a delight to look at and play with. (Shopping for Christmas? Get your order in now to have a set arrive in time!)

Organizational Supplies

There are games with well-designed inserts and then there are the majority of games. Here are three items that Purple Pawn suggests to use to help manage their game collection (once they throw away that useless insert):

Hugo’s Amazing Tape. Games with cards often have the same problem: keeping them together. Enter Hugo’s Amazing Tape. This product is a transparent static wrap that sticks to itself, not your game components. It’s great for securing game boxes and keeping cards in organized stacks. Although Hugo’s Amazing Tape works well on most games, make sure to point your gamer over to this geeklist on BoardGameGeek for a list of games “safely tested” with the stuff. Looking for more colors? Try static bondage tape.

H-Shape or X-Shape Rubber Bands. To keep that overstuffed game box shut, a collection of crossing rubber bands might do the trick. Unlike regular rubber bands, these are split almost down the center, allowing one rubber band to wrap around all four sides of a game box.

Plano Stowaway Boxes. Primarily used as tackle boxes or for crafts, these transparent storage boxes can be configured to hold many differently-sized game components. For games that require multiple types of tokens (we’re talking about you, Fantasy Flight Games), Plano boxes are a great asset for organizing and storing. The boxes come in different sizes and basic configurations; most have adjustable dividers.

Other Items

And a miscellany of items that are just plain helpful (or tasty).

Edible Dice. Searching for a gift for a role-player? Gamers love dice — and Dice Candies makes them out of chocolate. A complete set of Ghirardelli, Van Lerr Callebaut, or TCHO organic chocolate polyhedrals (one each of d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20) will run you less than $10 — that’s less than some sets of non-edible dice!

Sports/Duffel Bags. Game night at a friend’s house? Heading to a convention? Your gamer will want to have something to safely and securely carry their games over. Look for a squarish-shaped duffel bag that is at least twelve inches wide — square board game boxes like Dominion are just under 12″x12″x3″. End pockets are great for holding smaller games. Note that when buying online, dimensions listed are usually the exterior size. The item linked above should carry three Dominion-sized boxes in the main compartment with room for a smaller game box.

Game Tables. With a round gaming table that’s easy to put away for storage (and to be used for other things), all players can have the game board at an equal distance, which helps with seeing those small board elements and reaching the board no matter where you sit. Have a few thousand dollars in your gift-giving budget? Consider The Portal by Geek Chic for something a bit more elegant and customizable.

Dice Trays. When rolling a handful of dice, it’s helpful to keep them all together instead of chasing them off the table or — for the gamer who wants to keep their game pristine — scuffing the board. Dice trays come in various shapes and styles, but for our tastes, you want to look for a large (but not too large) rolling surface and high walls.

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.

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