The Settlers of Catan: Timeless Classic

Settling in!

There are few games I have ever played that I have found as thoroughly enjoyable as The Settlers of Catan (Catan from now on). First released in 1995, it won the prestigious Spiel de Jares (Game of the Year) in Germany the same year. Brought to America the following year published under Mayfair Games, Catan has celebrated 20 years of success with numerous expansions, translations, and even released mobile versions of the incredibly popular title.

Are you ready to trade your way to victory and become the most successful Settler? Hide yo’ sheep, it’s Settlers of Catan.

Pre-game (5/5)

The setup of the game is incredibly easy and within it, lies the replayability factor of Catan. Once the “frame” is assembled, the terrain tiles are shuffled and distributed randomly creating a new experience with every play. Once the tiles are revealed, the 18 number tokens are placed clockwise starting in any corner and skipping the sole desert tile. Once all the tiles have a token, place the Bandit miniature in the Desert.

Now that the board is ready, each player chooses their color and takes the associated houses and roads. Then, each player rolls both dice, and whoever scores highest gets to place one settlement and one connected road. Placement continues clockwise until the last player, who places twice. At which time placement reverses order. This means that whoever places first, also places last. Once everyone has placed two settlements and two roads, the game begins proper; so let’s roll with it.

Gameplay (4/5)

At the beginning of each players turn, they roll both dice. Whatever number they roll, is the resource that is produced. Every player with a settlement bordering the number rolled gains one of the corresponding resources. Then, the acting player is free to negotiate the trading of resource cards among the players.

However, if a player rolls a seven, they may take the Bandit and place it on another tile. If another player has a settlement or city bordering that tile, the acting player may take a card from that player. In addition, that tile will not provide resources for players until the Bandit moves again.

Players want resources to not only expand their holdings by building new settlements and improving them to cities (which each provide victory points), they also want to purchase Development Cards. These have a wide range of functions such as providing victory points, moving the Bandit, and taking resources from the bank. For an in-depth analysis of all of the rules of Catan, check them out here.

The game ends when a player declares that they have achieved ten (10) victory points. This can be achieved through building, receiving one of the two achievements (which can change hands during the length of the game), and through Development Cards.

Component Quality (4.5/5)

Catan may not have especially detailed components, but it is not to say that they aren’t well made. The settlements, cities, and roads are made well enough, but instead of using a perfectly opaque paint, a more transparent coating was used. While this reduces the vibrancy of the pieces, it does give the game a certain “homey” feel to it. I ran into the “small card” problem again, but I resolved it by buying a full-size set of cards. The tiles are sturdy, almost too sturdy. Many of them still have rough nubbins on the edges where I couldn’t cleanly break them off the stock. However, it does not hinder the setup of the board.

Experience (5/5)

Catan is one of those games where the long game is more important than the short game.  Similar to Risk, I find myself thinking many moves ahead, trying to figure out not only which directions my opponents are building, but if it would be beneficial to stop them. While the game advises that games take an hour on average, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that ended before then. Depending on your players, great deliberative sessions can be had during turns, and while the game itself plays quickly, it is the trading and “hmm-ing and ahh-ing” that takes forever.

I however, love strategic games that play a long game. Catan is a staple among my peers and I emphatically give it a 4.5/5

Useful Links

Wil Wheaton and friends play The Settlers of Catan

Board Game Geek’s page and reviews.

Wolfie’s review from iSlaytheDragon.

 

Tokaido: The Not-so-Lonely Road

Let’s (E)do this!

Are you ready to travel the roads of ancient Japan from Edo to Kyoto in hopes of having the best road trip ever? In Tokaido, players travel along the historic Tokaido road, performing activities and resting at inns; All culminating in their arrival in Kyoto where one player is determined the victor. Though arts, hot springs, cuisine and more, players accrue Journey Points in hopes that they have the most at the end. First released by Passport Games in 2012, two expansions and a deluxe version have since been released, offering new things to do, people to meet, and travelers to be.

Are you ready to treat yourself to a most enlightening experience, picking up friends, souvenirs, and great snacks along the way? Go get your Geda, this is Tokaido.

Pre-game (4/5)

To begin the game, lay the board out and separately shuffle the Meal, Souvenir, Encounter, and Hot Spring cards into their respective decks. Then, sort out the Panorama cards by type, and place them in their respective board locations. Next, make sure that the coins are easily accessible by all players (or designate a banker).

Each player then picks a color and draws two Traveler tiles at random, choosing one Traveler to be their character, and discarding the other. To remember whose traveler is whose, each player places their matching color token into the slot of their Traveler. Each Traveler card has special abilities, so players must be wary of what their opponents pick. Each Traveler card also has an associated starting gold value, which the player takes from the bank. Finally, “the most experienced traveler” goes first, with play continuing clockwise.

Now that the game is set up, let’s roll with it.

Gameplay (4.5/5)

At its core, players make their way from Inn to Inn until they reach Tokaido. Once a player has reached an Inn, they must wait for all other players to arrive. The great and interesting aspect of Tokaido is the enriching experience the Traveler is supposed to experience while playing. That being said, players can only move their Traveler further down the path, forgoing any opportunities they pass. If a player is last on the road and they are still last after moving, they may move again immediately!

There are also a limited number of spaces, so performing sequential tasks like Panoramas or Souvenirs get risky the later you put them off. Some spaces have two slots for Travelers to occupy, though these are only utilized in games of 4-5 players. Each space allows for a player to perform a different activity. The spaces include Villages where souveniers can be bought, Hot Springs that provide immediate points, and Farms, where crops can be pillaged gold is received from the bank (thanks feudal system!). For a detailed look at all of Tokaido’s spaces and rules, check them out here.

Once all the players have made it to the final Inn in Edo, achievement cards are awarded, victory points are tallied, and a winner is declared.

Component Quality (4.5/5)

For the most part, Tokaido is a beautifully produced game. The board is sturdy and lavish in color, with each space clearly referencing the action the player needs to take. The Travelers are all very sturdy, as are the coins which are all adorable card stock representations of ancient Japanese Kan’ei coins. The Meal, Souvenir, Encounter, Achievement, and Hot spring cards are all the tiny 2″ x 3″ “mini” cards, but somehow they don’t feel that small. The Meeples are vibrant, although the point markers are worryingly small. Make sure you don’t have enthusiastic pets or children around, as I imagine they’re very easy to mistake for food.

The only component I have a problem with are the Panorama cards. NOT made of the same material as the other cards, each card came chain-printed which meant I had to remove each from the others. This left a small nubbin on either side of the card where I disconnected it. It’s not terrible, but the lack of flush edges leaves something to be desired.

Experience (5/5)

I was fortunate enough to be able to bring Tokaido home with me on a recent visit back to my parents. My sister very much wanted to give Tokaido a try, and I thought it would be something my mother would enjoy. Little did I know, my little brother (9) was the one who loved it the most. In a group of three, each game took less than half an hour and over two days we must have played at least five times. While the board remains static, the various travelers and expansions add tons of replay value to an aesthetically beautiful game.

I am very excited to introduce it to my friends and happily rate Tokaido 4.5/5

Useful Links

Wil Wheaton and friends play Tokaido

Board Game Geek’s page and review.

Walt Mueller’s review from Board Game Quest.

Five Tribes: In Five Parts

Welcome to the Desert!

Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala, is a competitive strategic Eurogame based in the fictional city-state of Naqala. Another great game by Days of Wonder, its objective will pit players against each other to collect the most victory points. This is achieved through various means including owning tiles, controlling important members of populace, and of course, having the most gold.

Will you fulfill the ancient prophecy and claim the Sultanate as your own? Ready your camels, this is Five Tribes.

Pre-game (3/5)

To set up the board, shuffle the 30 land tiles and deal them in a six by five grid. Then, jumble the 90 Meeples in their bag and randomly draw and place three on each tile. Next, shuffle the Resource deck and lay out nine cards from right to left. The order is important, so place the rest of the deck on the left hand side to remember. Then, shuffle the Djinn cards and reveal the top three, placing the rest of the Djinn cards nearby. Finally make sure that either, all players can reach the palm trees, palaces, and remaining gold Coins, or a banker is established.

At the beginning of the game, each player is given 8 camels (11 for two player games) representing their claim on a tile, a minaret (two minarets in a two player game) to represent turn order, and 50 gold representing their funds they have arrived to Naqala with. The goal of the game is to have the most Victory Points by the end of the game. The final turn of a game is played when a player placed her last camel, or if it is discovered that no more legal moves can be made. Now that the game is set up, let’s roll with it.

Gameplay (3.5/5)

Five Tribes is played in a series of turns, with each turn consisting of a number of different steps. The game ends either when a player has placed all of their camels, or no more legal moves can be made. At which point any player who has yet to act during the turn may do so. Once all players have completed their actions, victory points are tallied and a winner is declared.

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What a two-player end game could look like.

Five Tribes has a number of interesting mechanics, beginning with turn order not being absolute. To begin each turn, players bid for first place through a bidding system. Then, utilizing a Mancala-styled mechanic, players pick a tile with at least one Meeple on it and distribute them one-by-one across tiles, ensuring that the last Meeple they place matches at least one Meeple on the tile they end on. This is known as the “Last Meeple Same Color” rule. Other placement rules include “No Doubling Back”, and “No Diagonal Movement”. Once a player has determined their final tile, they gain a special benefit depending on what color of Meeple they finished on. For a comprehensive rules list, check it out here.

After performing your Meeple action, the acting player performs their tile action. These vary from increasing the worth of the tile, to making purchases at the market, and buying Djinn. Finally, players may trade in resources at the market. Through tile abilities and merchant Meeples, players try to amass the nine different resource cards sold in Naqala. Players want more resources because when they trade in, they will receive a better return the more diverse the collection is. Once all players have taken their actions in the turn, the market is replenished, Djinn are summoned, and the bidding for the next turn begins!

When do you win? The game ends when no more legal moves can be made or a player runs out of camels. Once a player makes the “final move”, each opponent takes a turn to cash in their market items and activate any Djinn abilities (if they want). Then, the score is tallied and a winner is declared.

Component Quality (4.5/5)

I found the quality of the components to be a bit mixed. While the wooden pieces were of beautiful quality (in terms of both vibrant color and consistent form), I found the coins difficult to remove from their card stock. Though the tiles that comprise the board were of the same stock and large enough to easily push out, the coins, being much smaller, were much harder to cleanly remove. That being said, the coins and tiles show minimal edge fray, so overall, I am pleased.

Meeple

Some say “design flaw”. I say “personality trait”.

Experience (4/5)

Unlike my previous review of Gloom, which is easy to pick up and play, Five Tribes has a comparatively lengthy set-up time and learning curve. Admittedly, I just glossed over the gameplay rules and would encourage the interested to check out the rulebook to get a sense of just how many rules there are. One of the hurdles that new players (or those inexperienced with Eurogames) will have to overcome is a lot of minute rules. From each of the five colors of Meeples achieving a different goal, to to each of the 22 Djinn having a unique special ability, it will take quite some time before new players are comfortable playing without stopping for rule clarifications.

That being said, Five Tribes is an excellent game for small gatherings, close friends, and board game aficionados. While its lengthy set-up and extensive rules make the game daunting for new players, its replay value will leave you wanting one more game. Taking all previous factors into account, I give Five Tribes 3.5 tribes out of five.

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The final score from my two-player game.

Useful Links

Wil Wheaton and friends play Five Tribes:

Board Game Geek’s page and reviews.

A review by a reviewer after my own heart, Josh.

Gloom: Enlightened by Exposition

Rated by a Reviewer!

We all love our family, but we’ve all got “that relative” who you wouldn’t mind if they were pestered by poltergeists. In Gloom, you control a family of your own with the objective of giving them the most miserable lives possible before helping them pass on to the well-deserved respite of death (actually what it says on the box). Originally released in 2004 by Atlas Games, 2014 brought a fully backwards-compatable second edition with rule clarifications and new card art.

Ready to be the George R.R. Martin of card games? Sharpen your Stakes and Prepare the Poison, this is Gloom.

Pre-game (5/5)

The base game can accommodate 2-4 players with each expansion allowing for an additional player. For the purposes of this review, I’m going to focus on the base game only. Gloom’s pre-game is incredibly simple. Each player chooses one of the four families and lays them out in front of them. In Gloom, no family has any sort of special rule or advantage. Everything being equal, the winner is determined entirely by player skill and the luck of the draw. Then the deck is shuffled and everyone is dealt five cards. It’s that simple. Now that the game is set up, let’s roll with it.

Gameplay (5/5)

Gloom is played in a series of turns with each player taking two plays before they pass play to the next player. When a player plays, they may either play a card, discard a card, or pass. Cards can be played on a players’ own family members, or the family members of other players. In Gloom, sabotage is expected and encouraged! The cards range from adding (bad!) or subtracting (good!) points, providing continuous effects to the player and their family, and ending their lives in the game. Once a player has made their two plays, they draw cards until they reach their hand limit. For a more in-depth rules explanation, read them here.

The objective of the game is to have the lowest score (quantified as Pathos) at the end. The game ends when all of the members of one player family have met their untimely death. At this time, play immediately ceases and all dead Characters are separated from the living ones (because Pathos is all we care about). Each player totals the amount of Pathos their deceased Characters have, and whoever has the lowest score, wins the game.

Component Quality (4.5/5)

One very impressive aspect of Gloom is the quality of the cards. While they are great for those who like to drink at the table (due to their transparent plastic nature), they can sometimes be troublesome on perfectly dry, or slanted surfaces. The cards are so smooth that if lightly tossed, they will glide across a dry surface, but stick to slightly damp ones.

Additionally, because they aren’t made of regular cardboard, they have a very distinct odor to them. While the smell will dissipate over time, I’ve owned my deck for over a year and the scent still lingers on them. I often find myself washing my hands after the game because I have a pretty sensitive sniffer.

Experience (5/5)

The aspect of Gloom that makes it shine is the storytelling factor of the game. While optional, I would encourage all new players of the game to start with the storytelling aspect being mandatory. Why would you refuse explaining how Mr. Giggles (an undead circus clown) was greeted by ghosts? Or how Grogar (an adorable franken-teddy) was badly betrothed. My friends and I love this game at smaller get-togethers because we can go wild with the storytelling (especially after a few drinks). If you have a verbose entourage, prepare for hilarity and hijinks. Taking all factors into account, I give Gloom a 4.5/5.

Useful Links

Wil Wheaton and his friends play Gloom

Board Game Geek’s page with reviews.

RPG.net’s review by Shannon Applegate.

Ticket to Ride: A Great Training Game

All Aboard the Review Train!

Choo Choo! Welcome to Ticket to Ride (and my first review)! Set in America, 1910 to be exact, players aim to be the best locomotive magnate of the table. Produced by Days of Wonder, Ticket to Ride is a route-connecting, train-placement game that has players vying to connect America though strategy and guile. Winner of both Germany’s and Japan’s game of the year award in 2004 (among numerous other awards), Days of Wonder has expanded their tracks to other continents including Europe, Asia, and Africa as well.

Will you create the longest route and connect a thriving America? All aboard the review train, this is Ticket to Ride.

Pre-game (5/5)

Before the game begins, each player chooses a color and takes the associated trains and wooden marker. Then, the train cards are shuffled and four are dealt to each player. Once all the players have cards, the top five cards of the deck are revealed and placed beside the trains deck. Next, the destination cards are shuffled and each player is dealt three. Players may keep all three, but may discard down to two if they wish. Finally, determine who goes first! In Ticket to Ride, the first player is the most experienced traveler, but if you play with the same group, you can decide using an alternate method.

Now that the game is set up, let’s roll with it.

Gameplay (5/5)

Each turn a player can do one of three actions. They can claim a route; they can draw train cards; or they can draw destination cards. Once they have completed their chosen action, play goes to the next player in order. For a full breakdown of the rules, take a look here.

The object of the game is to have the most points. Players earn points through connecting different routes on destination cards. These cards name two locations on the board that the player has to connect using their trains. They are also kept secret from the other players so no-one knows exactly how many points you have. To show progression though, the trains you place also count for points which are immediately scored. Be careful though, when the game ends, you will lose points for incomplete destinations!

What I enjoy most about Ticket to Ride is that it is incredibly simple. Because a player only has three actions, it can be easily picked up by anyone. It also allows for massive replay  value because you likely won’t get the same routes twice. It’s easy to pick up, but requires flexibility in planning if someone takes your route. You have to think a few steps ahead, and that sort of challenge is what I look for in a game.

Component Quality (5/5)

The quality of the game is exceptional. The five colors of trains are all molded in vibrantly-colored plastics and the board is of sturdy stock. The only qualm I have is with the size of the cards. In the base game, the train and route cards that are provided are about 3” x 2”. While this may not be as large a problem for most, I’m not used to holding such tiny cards. However, the 1912 expansion rectifies this by providing full-sized train and route cards.

Experience (5/5)

I was fortunate to play host to a recent board games night and was able to document a full five-player match. The game itself is great fun, having to not only worry about your own routes, but also the routes other players may take. About halfway through the game, I took a one-train route that my opponent needed because it was the only way to access Atlanta. This was the beginning of the end of my game as the player then spent much of the rest of the game blocking me wherever she could. Managing your available trains is also something to keep in mind, as it was what ultimately led to my downfall in that match. Ticket to Ride is a staple in my household and I happily give it a 5/5.

Useful Links

Wil Wheaton and friends play Ticket to Ride

Board Game Geek’s page with reviews.

Review from The Opinionated Gamers.