2018 – Top Twenty Games

My First Top Twenty List – Squeeeee!!!

I’ve been gaming for about five years now and I’ve never written up a top twenty list. It’s forced me to put together a list of all the games I’ve played over the years.  This has shown me how woefully few games I’ve played compared to many hardcore gamers.  Oh, if only I were independently wealthy with loads of free time. Although, I think this has allowed me to really appreciate what I have been able to play. I’ve found having limited space and time has me searching for games that are truly great and not just okay. It would be interesting to try a top 100 or even a top 50 some day, but I need to play a lot more games before that’s possible. I’ve tried getting people in the area into games as much as I am, but so far nobody has quite taken the bait. Come on people! buy more games so I don’t have to. Anyway, I am quite excited to talk about my all time favourites, and I hope everyone enjoys reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Number 20 – Citadels

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This is one of the games I’ve had the longest. I bought it within the first few months of getting into gaming and its almost always been a crowd pleaser. For full disclosure I’ve traded away the original edition and updated to the second edition when it came out. In Citadels players take turns selecting a role card that lets them perform certain actions that range from building up their district to gaining gold. The players execute their role action in ascending order until everyone has completed their turn. This continues for several rounds until someone has completed their eighth building and the round finishes. Most points wins the game. The main difference between the two is the artwork and components. While the original was nice and worked fine the updated art and king token are beautiful. There’s also new roles and special buildings that were added to the mix. This adds to the replayability of the game and makes it very customizable to your playstyle. This brings me to one of my main complaints for the game. It can sometimes go on for too long, especially when playing at higher player counts. The rules in the new edition give you suggestions on how to speed the game up. This can be done by just decreasing the amount of buildings required to finish your district from 8 to 7. I’ve been doing this even with the original edition. I sometimes play to only 6 buildings. This does give you less time and ability to go for end game bonuses like different coloured buildings, but I like the increased challenge and shorter play time. The expansions increased role variety also helps by allowing you to play without roles that slow the game down. I’m not the biggest fan of the assassin role in the base game as it completely takes away a persons turn, which is terribly boring, and slows the game down. So, being able to play with more interesting and varied roles is great. If you can only get your hands on the first edition it still has a couple different options to switch out roles and you can still alter the rules to change game length. Either way, it’s a great game that has gone over well with gamers and new players as its rules are easy to understand, but still provide strategy and planning.

Number 19 – Sentinels of the Multiverse

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I played this twice at a con about two years ago and really got into this one. I was lucky enough to snag a copy with expansions for a good price during the con’s auction. Since then I’ve managed a nice handful of games and they have all been very entertaining. You are playing as a team of heroes going up against a villain bent on causing destruction. The main mechanics of the game are very simple. The villain gets a turn, then all the heroes get to take turns playing cards and using powers and then the environment you are playing in that game takes a turn as well. There are some negatives to the game. It can be extremely fiddly keeping track of all the modifiers and different powers of the villain, heroes and environment.  There are tokens to assist with this, but when you have so many modifiers in a game it can still be a chore to keep track of it all.  The difficulty level can also be swingy with some pairings of heroes against villains being very easy to extremely difficult. However, there is a rating system built into the game guiding you into which heroes and villains are easier or more difficult to use or go up against. The art for some people can also be hit or miss. While I don’t think the artwork is phenomenal it does have it’s own style and charm that I enjoy. Despite these drawbacks I find this game to be extremely thematic and entertaining. You really do feel like a team of superheroes going up against a big bad and every character has their own playstyle, which is great. You have those moments where you pull off some incredible combos and it feels so amazing. Those games where you barely squeak out a win by the skin of your teeth are so exciting and tense. So, if you enjoy the theme of superheroes and don’t mind some bookkeeping I think this could be a very solid game for your collection. Plus, it plays well solo if you don’t mind playing multiple characters.

Number 18 – Small World

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I haven’t played this one in a few months, but it’s still one I always enjoy getting out. Small World is a quick and simple area control game with variable player powers. The game has various races that all have different abilities and they are randomly paired-up with an additional power that changes gameplay for them. These combos change up from game to game and with expansions the amount of combos created varies the gameplay nicely. I love games that provide asymmetrical gameplay. In this one you’re trying to find just the right combo to exploit and spread out over the map. You do this while you gobble up points and encroach on your opponents territory.  There is also the great decision of when exactly is the best time to go into decline and get ready to set up your new race. Getting to know all the different race and power abilities can take a few games, but once you’ve gone through them a time or two the game can move at a pretty snappy pace. It does have some take that elements as you are trying to spread out into new areas and take them from your opponents at the same time. It doesn’t feel as harsh in this game since everyone’s races are rising and falling multiple times throughout the game. This is another one that has been very successful with non-gamers and always goes over well.

Number 17 – Abyss

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This is another one that is popular with friends and family that don’t game as often. You are basically collecting sets with a little push your luck thrown in to get enough matching allies to influence (buy) lords that do different things.  Some of the lords just give large amounts of points while some attack other players. You can also collect keys on lords or through fighting monsters to purchase locations that will give you a certain amount of points based on certain things such as what kind of lords or allies you have collected throughout the game.  Anyone that has seen this game knows that the artwork is stunning and really stands out.  It is definitely one of the most beautiful games that I own.  My only real beef with the game is the monster battling portion.  Basically, when you are flipping through the deck and a monster comes up you have the choice to fight it and take the reward listed next to the monster token on the track.  Otherwise, you discard the monster card, the token moves up (improving the reward) and you keep flipping cards from the deck.  This portion of the game isn’t terrible, but it’s just so anticlimactic for something that sounds like it should be more interesting.  There is a new expansion coming for this one called Leviathan that adds more to this portion, which I am very excited to try out.  This is one that I would also call a good family game as the core mechanics of set collection and push your luck are easy to digest. Great simple game that is always a good time.

Number 16 – Mascarade

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I never hear anyone talking about this game, which is a shame since it’s such a fantastic game.  It’s a combination of bluffing, variable player powers (see a pattern forming here) and memory.  This one can play from 2 to 13, but I wouldn’t play with less than 5 or more than 8 or 9. Too few and there isn’t enough bluffing and uncertainty.  Too many and it’s too chaotic and crazy. When Mascarade starts each player has a role card in front of them with a different ability.  Once everyone has had a nice look the cards are flipped and the game begins.  On your turn you can look at your card, claim to be a role, or secretly switch/not switch cards with someone under the table. That’s it. If you claim a role players can challenge if they think they may have the role instead.  Players who go unchallenged get to use the ability without revealing.  So you can essentially bluff your way into using an ability that you have no idea you have if you can be convincing enough. Although, if anyone challenges all players reveal their cards and the player who is correct uses the power while the player/players who are incorrect pay a coin to the courthouse in the middle of the table.  The game goes until someone reaches 13 coins or someone goes broke, in which case the richest player wins.  I’ve played many games of this and I have never seen anyone go broke. Powers range from taking 2 to 3 coins from the bank, stealing from your neighbours or being able to win at only 10 coins.  I love moments in this game when you’re so sure of what you have and someone else challenges you just to throw a wrench in your works and you find out you don’t have what you originally thought.  Such great moments in this game and one that is a real crowd pleaser, at least in my circle.

Number 15 – Suburbia

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This is another one that I’ve had for quite some time. Besides variable player powers in games I really enjoy a game where you are building something in front of you. I wouldn’t exactly call this an engine/tableau builder, but it has those elements. Every player is buying different tiles each turn trying to more efficiently build up their city throughout the game. You want to build a city that will increase your income and population, but you want to make sure you have a nice balance throughout the game and make a bigger push for population in the end. Upon first looking at the game it seems very bland and uninteresting, but the different tiles and what they do are all so thematic and interesting. Placing a slaughter house near a residential area causes your population to go down (because who wants to live next to a slaughterhouse). At the same time building a fancy restaurant nets you a big income increase, but any restaurants built in the game after that drops your income by 1 as the population in your suburbia has other options for dinner. These little touches fit so well and make the game so much fun to play. I love stepping back after completing a game and looking at what I’ve created. The game can be a little heady at first and is not one that is easily digestible for people who do not play games as often. It involves a bit of math each turn as you adjust numbers when you place a tile, then see how it affects other tiles around it.  As stated earlier with my restaurant example city tiles can affect and be affected by other peoples cities. Players also have secret goals and open goals that they are competing for to receive bonus end game points. This adds a bit of variability and extra competition in games. If you can get players to be patient enough to get through one game to see how everything works it is well worth it. This one also has two different solo modes. I prefer Dale the Bot and think it makes for a fun solo experience.

14 – Five Tribes

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This is a mancala style game where you seed a 5 x 6 grid of location tiles with five different coloured meeples.  As you move the meeples around the tiles you get to use the ability of the coloured meeples you picked up from that spot.  You then get to use the ability of the tile you ended on, which can be anything from placing a palm tree on the tile for end game points or buying a genie from the buy row.  The meeple colours let you do things like collect coins/points, destroy other meeples or get cards from the market. The game continues until there are no legal moves or tiles or someone places there last camel.  Once this happens players add up points and the player with the most points wins.  I like how coins are also points and you have to decide when bidding how many points you can afford to give up. There are also times when you can use those coins/points to buy market cards and  I think this makes for nice small decisions on occasion.  You have to think of whether the points your getting rid of are going to net you more points in the long run.  This game is very tactical and players can’t do much long term planning as the board state changes on every players turn.  Due to this, players have to think of several turns that may benefit them and hope one of them is still available when their turn comes around again.  I’ve heard some people complain that this drags out the game due to players getting massive AP (analysis paralysis), but I haven’t experienced much of this in my games.  This one came out with a solo mode a while after it was published.  I’ve used them and they are serviceable, but they do change up gameplay a bit and I definitely prefer the multiplayer game.

13 – Deus

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For all my games on this list I’ve played them at least five times. Quite a few more than that for several of them. This is the only game on this list that violates that rule. I’ve only played it a couple of times, but I have absolutely loved each of those times.  This could mean it could come off the list or drop next year, but I don’t think that will be the case.  The crux of the game is the card play.  You have a handful of cards and you can do a couple different things with those cards.  You can discard them, along with several other cards to use them for a discard ability.  These abilities can let you do things like net you points, money or resources.  You can also choose to play them on your tableau in front of you and it will give you an action when you place it. Each type of card focuses on a certain aspect of the game such as money or resources.  Now, here’s the cool part.  When you play a type of card you start a stack or column for that type of card and every time you put another card on the column you get to go through each action in order on that column.  That allows you to create these amazing combos where you trade in one type of resource for a bunch of money, then use all that money to buy other resources and so on and so forth.  It feels so satisfying to build these chains of actions that really work together.  You play until an end game condition is met and the player with the most points wins.  A complaint I’ve heard about this one is luck of the draw can hurt you a bit.  That may be able to happen and I’ve only played a couple games, but it seems like this wouldn’t be enough to really tank a players game.  Time will tell if this one will hang in there, but for now I really enjoy it and would like to get it to the table more.

12 – Clank!

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I’ve played quite a few deck-builders such as Dominion, Trains, and Legendary: Alien, but this is one of my favourites.  I really enjoy delving into the dungeon and trying to make the most out of your deck as you rush around grabbing artifacts and treasure and try to get out before the dragon takes you down.  That brings us to the name of the game.  Clank! represents the noise you make as you delve into the dungeon.  Every time you generate clank, through cards you play and cards that come out of the deck, you place cubes on the board.  Then, when the dragon attacks at certain times you place all that clank in the bag.  The bag will already contain black dragon cubes that do nothing and player cubes from previous turns.  You draw a certain amount of cubes based on the current position of the dragon marker on the track and any cubes of yours count as wounds against you.  Take too many wounds and you die.  Depending on whether or not you made it out of the depths of the dungeon when you kick the bucket will decide if you get to count up points you accumulated during the game.  If you manage to get all the way out of the dungeon without dying you are awarded 20 bonus points.  The game timer starts when a player does just that.  At that point all other players have a set amount of turns to make it out of the dungeon.  The player with the most points is the winner.  Any of those who didn’t manage to at least make it out of the depths are out of the running and cannot count points at all.  I think the theme comes through really well for this one and the little bits of humour on the cards are nice.  A great game that I’m always willing to play.  This one also comes with a solo mode, but you need an app to utilize it.  I’ve played the solo mode a couple times and it seemed to work well, but I’m not sure I like it as much as the multiplayer mode.

11 – Smash Up

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A lot of people might not agree with this game being so high on my list, but this is the game that really got me into gaming.  It still holds a special place in my collection and probably always will.  It’s one that will probably never leave my collection and that makes me happy since it’s one I always enjoy getting out.  I don’t have every expansion, but I do have a lot of them.  In this game your piling powerful minions on bases and using special abilities until you can break bases and earn points.  The first person to reach 15 and still have the highest points wins.  I love how even after so many different factions they can find ways to make them feel thematic.  You can have zombies come back from the discard pile, Vikings pillage things from other decks or even have cyborg apes pile on enhancements to make them stronger.  I love picking two different decks and smashing them up to see what cool combos you can uncover.  Once you’ve played the game several times you can get a feel for the factions and what they all do.  This allows for another layer of strategy when picking factions to counteract those chosen by other players.  I will say the game is best at 3.  2 isn’t bad, but it’s nice to have that 3rd player.  With four you can have moments where you aren’t even able to get in on the action with players piling on bases and breaking them before you even get a chance.  Also, as with many card games sometimes luck of the draw can really favour you or leave you lurching behind a bit.  The game plays quickly though and even with new players it doesn’t last too long if players don’t succumb to analysis paralysis.

10 – Aeon’s End: War Eternal

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This is a new one to my collection.  It’s the second deck-builder on my list and I think it’s safe to say that this is my favourite game with the deck-building mechanic.  In AE:WE players cooperate as a group of breach mages that are battling against an evil nemesis bent on coming into the world and destroying the city of Gravehold.  Players start with a slightly asymmetric deck of cards and buy more throughout the game from the static market.  They generate aether, the in game currency, to buy gems, relics and new spells.  These can do all kinds of things from generating more aether, dealing damage, and healing.  Every so often the nemesis gets a turn to place out minions and attack.  The game continues until you destroy the nemesis, all mages are exhausted or gravehold is destroyed.  Each nemesis also has an alternate win condition that changes gameplay a bit.  This game has so much replayability with different mages to play as, different nemesis to play against and a market that can change from game to game.  It also does a couple of other interesting things different from other deck builders.  One is the turn order deck.  Each player has a card in the deck representing them and then the nemesis gets a couple cards in the deck.  You shuffle the deck and whoever has a card come up takes a turn.  This makes turns interesting as you never know exactly when you or the nemesis will come up.  Also, unlike other deck-builders you do not have to discard all cards at the end of your turn and you never shuffle your deck.  You just flip over your discard pile and draw cards.  This allows you to hold cards and discard them in a specific order to try and create a nice combo of cards in your hand.  This is just a brief description and there are several other things, like how mages play spells to breaches, that I could describe, but I don’t want to get any longer winded than I already am.  Just trust me! This is a fantastic game and is well worth your time if you enjoy deck-builders and other card games. One more thing, this is the stand alone expansion to the original Aeon’s End.  I’ve heard this version is a little more advanced in regards to card abilities and nemesis actions, but I didn’t find it too challenging as long as you are even mildly experienced with board games.  Being a cooperative game this lends itself well to solo play.  Although I will say if you are playing solo it seems to play best using two mages.

9 – Viticulture

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I have the Essential Edition of this one, but I also have the original Tuscany expansion as well.  I’ll try and keep it clear when I speak about this one as I talk about the different editions and expansions.  Viticulture is the cultivation and harvesting of grapes and that is what you do in this game.  Players are all running their own vineyards building things, planting and harvesting grapes and using those grapes to make and sell wine.  It might sound boring, but this game is fantastic.  It’s a simple worker placement game where you place workers on the board to perform various actions to become the supreme winemaker.  You are collecting money and scoring points in various ways throughout the game and the first person to reach and/or pass 25 points signals the last round.  Once the last round finishes the person with the most points wins.  When I first played the game I played the original base game, and loved it.  Having said that, I would recommend getting the Essential Edition as it includes some essential (hence the name) additions.  It helps with things like adding asymmetric starting resources/buildings for each player and more advanced and interesting visitors.  I got the Tuscany expansion even though it included a few things I received in the Essential Edition.  I did this because the Tuscany expansion included some really interesting things that weren’t available otherwise.  I believe that they now have an Essential Tuscany expansion, but at the time of my purchase that didn’t exist.  I would recommend getting it either way as it adds some great things like an extended board, alternate workers with different powers, and different things you can build.  This is one of my all-time favourite worker placement games and it even comes with a solo mode AI deck that works very well and can be played on various difficulty levels.

8 – Anachrony

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In this one you and other players are factions preparing for a doomsday scenario and seeing who can do it more efficiently.  You take actions on your player board and the main board like hiring workers and mining for resources.  The cool thing about this one is that you can send resources back in time to get them for free, but they must be paid back sometime in the future or you risk creating anomalies which are negative points.  I really love this game. Everything from the artwork to gameplay is fantastic.   For a game that seems daunting and really difficult to pick up it is quite intuitive and easy to follow once you get the iconography down.  The various phases and actions available flow very well.  Gameplay is deep and strategic and gives you a lot to think about. You can try and build lots of buildings that give resources or help you warp through time more efficiently. Some generate points or can give you free actions that don’t cost a worker. Building superprojects can give abilities that make play even more varied and interesting.  Going for end game bonuses and your evacuation bonus give you something to plan for. There are just so many things to think about, but it never feels overwhelming. Resources and workers can be very tight as you never have quite enough to do everything you want.  I’ve heard people grumble that the time travel mechanic is just a glorified loan system.  I say whatever, it works, it’s thematic and it’s a whole lot of fun.  I just can’t say enough great things about this game.  Oh, I guess I can say one more good thing.  It has a very clever AI that does a great job simulating an actual opponent so you can play solo.  The only drawback to the solo is that to play on the hardest level you are required to play without a leader and it’s special abilities.  This is a great part of the gameplay and it’s a shame it is lost playing on hard mode in solo.

7 – The Voyages of Marco Polo

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Another worker placement game, but one that stands apart from the previous two.  I think a lot of people would put Anachrony higher than this one, but I just enjoy this one so much.  It’s also easier to teach people and not too much of a bear to set up which helps it get to the table.  In this one your workers are dice that you roll at the beginning of each round.  Different spots on the board require different amounts of dice and sometimes even different numbers on those dice.  You do things like collect resources, buy contracts, and move around on a map that is on the board.  Moving around the map allows you to collect bonuses and gives you access to actions other players cannot use unless they make it to those points of the map as well.  This goes on for five rounds at which time points are tallied and the player with the most points wins the game.  What really makes this game cool is that everyone starts with a different player ability that is extremely powerful.  This allows them to break the game rules in a huge way.  I’ve seen all of them in use and they are all incredible and they add a lot to the gameplay for each player.  I really enjoy this game and have a great time every single time I play it.  This one doesn’t come with an official solo mode, but there is one on boardgamegeek.com that I have printed off and it seems to work.  It was extremely difficult and might need some tweaks, but it allows the game to be played solo and isn’t half bad.

6 – Concordia

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Boy, do I love this game.  I think that if I played it more often it would be at least a little higher.  In this one all players start with the same deck of cards.  The cards all have actions on them.  The players play one card per turn and perform its action.  The cards let you do things like get money or resources, get new cards, build buildings and move colonists around the map.  The game continues this way until one person either builds all their buildings or the draw pile for new cards runs out.  That brings you to scoring, which is the really interesting part of the game.  The cards you started with and the cards you purchase throughout the game all have ways to score on the bottom of them.  They can score for things like each unique province your in, each unique item they produce and each colonist on the board. Each card that matches one of these goals will give you a set amount of points.  So, throughout the game while you’re building a deck of actions to perform you’re building end game scoring goals.  I think this is fantastic.  You need to keep an eye on what cards your buying and try and make sure your maximizing their end game scoring to get the most points.  This is a great game that I have never had go over poorly.

5 – Terraforming Mars

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Here comes another tableau/engine builder.  In this one you and the other players are trying to terraform the surface of Mars.  You have multiple generations to increase the oxygen level, heat and oceans on the surface of Mars.  Doing these things increases your terraforming rating, which is money and points for end game.  Once all three things are maxed out it signals the final generation.  Each player also chooses a corporation that they will be playing as throughout the game.  This gives you your starting resources and a small asymmetric ability that changes the game a bit for you.   Throughout the game you are trying to increase and manage your production of things like plants, energy, titanium and megacredits.  You use these resources to hasten the end game and play cards that will work towards building your engine.  I really like seeing the surface of Mars change throughout the game.  It’s also nice to see your tableau increase as you build cards out in front of you and create efficient combos that play off each other.  I also really enjoy how tight resources are in the beginning.  It feels like you can’t do much of anything.  Then by the end of the game you’re a powerhouse producing ridiculous amounts of resources and performing action after action.  Some common complaints are that the game takes a bit too long at times.  I haven’t found this to be the case in my multiplayer games and the solo game can zip by at a decent pace.  Some people may also not care for the take that cards, but I don’t think they are too bad and you can easily just play without them.  In the solo game you have 14 generations to meet the ocean, oxygen and heat requirements to win and only then can you count up your final score.  This one is a solid game in multiplayer and solo and one I think many people will enjoy.

4 – Imperial Settlers

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Another engine builder on the list.  I love engine builders.  Creating this thing out in front of you and pulling its levers and pushing its buttons is so much fun.  This one also has another thing I really like in games, which is multi-use cards.  If you don’t know what that means it’s when a card has several different things you can use it for.  In this game you can pay to build the card in your tableau and use it for it’s ability, you can raze them to get resources it might have in the top right corner of the card or you can make a deal with some cards to produce whatever it shows on the bottom of the card.  Common cards once built also act as a type of currency that must be paid to build most faction buildings.  At the beginning of the game each player picks a different faction that represents the civilization they are building.  Players go through five rounds playing cards, producing resources and performing actions.  You need to generate points throughout the game and any buildings built will also provide game end points.  The person with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.  Another thing about this game that is great is all the factions are asymmetric.  They all specialize in using certain resources and they all do slightly different things.  The theme of civ building doesn’t really come through so much, but it’s still fun to play.  I also find the basic solo rules of the game to be good, but quite a few others don’t share my opinion.  It is a beat your own score solo variant, but I like trying to tweak my faction decks with different cards to try and raise my score.  There is also a solo campaign you can download online that looks pretty good and gets reviews, but I haven’t tried it yet.  Play time can be long and it can be a difficult game when you first start playing, but I think it is one that is well worth the effort.

3 – Cyclades

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I’ve always loved Greek mythology so when I was first getting into gaming and I came across this one I had to have it and I will say it did not disappoint.  Cyclades is a dudes on a map game like Risk where players are trying to spread their fleets and soldiers across the board and trying to build buildings where they have soldiers.  A player wins at the end of the round when they have control of two Metropolises (Metropolii?).  The action of the game is driven by a bidding round where the players all bid for the influence of different Gods and perform the action associated with them.  I love the bidding in this game.  It can become so tense and fierce, especially as the game progresses toward its end.  The Gods let you do things like put soldiers on the board, put fleets on the board and acquire certain cards that can help you get a metropolis or make bidding cheaper.  Players can also purchase monsters that give them a one time benefit or a persisting effect till the end of the round.  The art and theme of this game are fantastic and I never turn down a play of this game.  Cyclades is also one that has gone over well with everyone I’ve introduced it to and is easy to pick up after only a round or two.  It is definitely one where you have to pay close attention to the other players or someone can sneak up with a win that you don’t see coming.  You also need to be careful not to leave any metropolis you hold poorly defended as you can hand a win to an opponent who can easily come in and stomp you.  Great game!

2 – Scythe

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Oh Scythe, how I love thee.  In Scythe each player picks a different faction that has a different ongoing ability and several other abilities that are unlocked as you put mechs out onto the board.  The goal of the game is to place stars on a track by performing certain actions like winning a battle and deploying all your mechs.  The game ends and players accumulate money based on their end game popularity and how well the did in certain categories.  The person with the most money is the winner.  The theme and art in this one are fantastic as well and if you get the upgraded components like realistic resources and metal coins its even more fun to look at and play.  When you look at everything set up on the table it looks like a lot, but the gameplay is deceptively simple yet still fun.  I know there are some out there who really don’t like this game.  They say it feels like it plays on rails, that gameplay isn’t that interesting or fun, and that the game end can come out of nowhere.  The game end can come suddenly, but I don’t find that to be a big deal and one of the expansions addresses this issue.  I don’t really agree with the other two.  There is plenty of room to try different avenues and I find the gameplay to be very rewarding and entertaining.  There are also three very good expansions out for this game that add things like campaign play, more factions, and alterations to gameplay that add more replayability to the game.  This one also has a fantastic solo mode that works very well and comes with multiple levels of difficulty. Extremely solid game that I think is fantastic.

1 – Arkham Horror: The Card Game

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Here we are at my #1.  It’s crazy how quickly this game jumped up to be my favourite game.  To me there is just so much to enjoy.  First  and foremost is the story.  You get an initial introduction to each scenario in the campaign guide and then the agenda and act deck also spice up the game by injecting story elements throughout the play of the game.  Once each scenario is ended you also get a little story snippet that will vary depending on how the game played out.  The game can also change ever so slightly in future scenarios depending on how well you have done and what choices you have made.  I have played many “narrative” games such as Agents of Smersh, Robinson Crusoe and Eldritch Horror, but in my opinion none of them can hold a candle to this one in terms of story.  I also like how you can pick different characters based on your playstyle and then customize them even further with how you construct your deck.  The cards are extremely thematic and really fit the feel and ability that they are trying to convey.  Spell cards can allow investigators to do incredible things, but they risk their sanity slipping further away. A quick dynamite tossed down can deal massive damage to a gang of enemies that is hunting for you.  Each character also starts with two unique weaknesses that can really throw a wrench in the works if drawn at the wrong time.  The cards are also multi-use, which as I’ve stated is another thing I love.  They each depict an ability they convey to the player and a set of icons at the side.  Most cards can be discarded to use their icons to buff your stats in skill checks for fights, investigations and other actions.  So, you have to decide if you want to use a card to help with this current skill check I’m about to do or do I really want to save it because I love the ability it will give me.  Speaking of skill checks, I’m a big fan of the chaos tokens pulled from the bag as opposed to using dice.  Imagine reaching into the bag, rooting around, finally grasping a token you’ve decided to take a chance on, pulling your hand out and slowly opening your hand to determine how you’ve done on your check.  It is so much more satisfying than rolling a dice and seeing what happens and it also makes the difficulty very customizable.  Although, there may be a few negatives to the game depending on who you ask.  The game can be very random.  You have random card draws from your own decks, random draws from the encounter deck and random draws from the chaos bag.  So, if you don’t like randomness this game may not be for you.  With games like this you need randomness to create a challenge within the game and the difficulty can be adjusted, but it still may rub some the wrong way.  Some people may not be overly fond of having to construct decks before beginning to play.  It is a bit time consuming, but in my opinion not nearly as demanding as other games such as Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.  Also, if you want to be able to do more varied deck construction you will definitely have to get into buying expansion packs, which won’t be cheap.  Some will say you must get at least one extra core box.  If you want to play a four player game with just core material that is true.  The core box alone is not enough to build four decks, but I myself only own one core and that combined with expansions has been sufficient to build multiple decks at a time.  The rules can also be a bit tricky at first with different key words and smaller rules that can be hard to remember until you’ve gotten a few games under your belt.  Needless to say, I find this game to be outstanding and think that If you find the core box even mildly entertaining you should definitely give expansions a chance as they considerably increase the game in every aspect.  I’ve had this game for less than two years and have already played it sixty some odd times.  I haven’t had the chance to play it multiplayer, but that’s okay as it plays so well solo.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game – The Horror of it all

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“We all go a little mad sometimes” – Anthony Perkins Psycho

Theme

First off, if you’ve read Lovecraft before you know that his work tends to be much more psychological horror than what you find in games of this ilk. Fantasy Flight has quite a large selection of games under this mythos and they all have more of a pulp feel to them, and that’s fine.  In Lovecraft’s work you will find the characters slowly slipping into madness while their minds try to comprehend beings that are literally without comprehension.  They emphasize the dread and horror of the unknowable and the sheer hopelessness of battling entities with power beyond anything you could imagine. In this game, and others of it’s kind, you will find characters kicking down doors and unloading a shotgun into some foul creature from another world.  That is the kind of story this game brings.  Basically, you are investigators trying to stop a dark cult from unleashing powerful elder gods into our world.  So, while the psychological horror and feel is a bit different from the source material, it still makes for a wonderful and entertaining experience. This game oozes theme.  The story comes through in every aspect. The art and gameplay go so well together and combine to make a truly terrific story. Even in the modest narrative provided in the core campaign it’s hard not to become immersed in the story and what is happening to your investigators.

Components

There isn’t too much to say about components. The game comes with a good assortment of cards, small tokens to keep track of resources and health, tokens to use for skill checks, the box and rulebooks. The cards are typical for a Living Card Game.  I’m sure a lot of die hard fans will end up sleeving their cards, but to me it’s an added expense that I feel just isn’t necessary. The art and flavor text on all the cards is wonderful and does a great job of pulling you into the theme.  the tokens that represent resources, health, etc. all work well and are good quality. I will admit that I did put my chaos tokens into 26mm capsules.  I felt they were being man handled more than the cards.  I also like the nice chunky feel and the clink of them rolling around as you rummage in the bag hoping to draw a positive token.  I really liked this addition to the gameplay.  I tend to get really annoyed with dice rolls for skill checks and find this method much more fun and enjoyable.  It would have been nice for Fantasy Flight to provide a bag to put them in, but I think this is a small concern. You could easily put them into a bowl or cup, but I bought a small dice bag that works great. This game comes, as all Fantasy Flight games, with two rulebooks. You have the quick learn to play guide and then a more dense reference guide with more detailed rules.  It did take me a few games to get all the basic rules down. There are a good amount of little rules and steps to remember here and there, and keeping track of effects of different cards in play as they pile up can be a bit tricky.  Although, after a few games it gets easier to remember and even if you forget, the experience is still enjoyable.  The base box the game comes in is quite small and won’t be able to hold cards for long if you plan on getting expansions as they come out.

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Health, Sanity, Resource, Clue and Doom Tokens
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Tokens pulled from bag or bowl for skill checks
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Learn to Play Guide and Reference Book

 

Art

The art for this game is gorgeous.  Each card does a great job giving you a visual depiction of the card ability. Not only this, they do an excellent job of helping immerse you into the story of your investigator and their horrific adventures.

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Cards Used to represent players in the game area
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Player Cards depicting stats, health, sanity and various other info
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A few Cards players can add to their decks

Gameplay and Set-Up

Set up for this game can be a little lengthy, but it’s made a bit easier with some organization.  All of my cards are sorted into their different encounter sets and player cards with dividers I’ve printed up.  This makes it much easier to find the sets I need during set up.  For your very first scenario you’ll have to put tokens in the chaos bag based on the difficulty level you’re going for and whether your playing campaign or a standalone scenario.  You’ll also have to choose which investigators you will be playing with and find all their character specific cards.  If you flip to the back of each character card you will find what cards they start with such as assets and weaknesses.  They will also have specific deck building instructions on what kinds of cards they can put into their deck.  This initial portion of the set up can be a little time consuming, but in my opinion is not as demanding as other deck construction games. Next, you use the location cards gathered to build the play area where the investigators will move around. Some scenarios have special cards that may be put aside out of play and they will show up when events bring them into play. You use the rest of the cards to build the encounter deck that you will be drawing from for the remainder of the game.  Next, you will have to put the various tokens into their piles and each investigator receives five resource tokens and draws five cards.  You can’t have weaknesses in hand at the beginning and can put back any amount of the initial five and draw one more card for each you put back.  The game is guided by an agenda and an act deck.  The agenda deck is how far your enemies are advancing towards their goals and the act deck keeps track of the investigators progress through the story.  Players go through various phases until they achieve their goals or their enemies achieve their own.  The investigator phase is the main part of the game where players will take turns performing three actions such as move, fight, evade or investigate.  Most of these actions are played in the form of cards or at least buffed up by cards. Investigating allows them to gather clues to advance the act deck and is the main way they will progress towards their end goal.  The enemy phase comes next where any enemies you may be engaged with get to attack you, and hopefully you will have ways to avoid these attacks or absorb some of the damage.  Finally, you get to draw cards and get resources.  This will lead into the next round where you will start off with the mythos phase (which does not occur in the first round).  You will add one doom to the agenda deck which may advance when enough doom has built up within the game. Next, each player will draw a card from the encounter deck which all have various terrible things you will have to deal with.  These things range from testing one of your stats to enemies spawning throughout the play area.  You continue on throughout the campaign until some sort of resolution is achieved.

 

Solo

This game is absolutely wonderful solo and is, in fact, not only my number one solo game, but my number one game overall.  You can play the game one-handed with one character or even with two to four characters if you have enough cards and are willing to keep track of all that info on your own.  I would say some characters will take more easily to playing solo as you will want someone that has a more even stat line that can deal with various skill checks and more readily handle anything the game may throw at them.  With just a core set this will be trickier, but as expansions are released and the card pool grows you will be able to customize your characters to better deal with any events and enemies that they may face.  I myself have played multiple games controlling 1, 2 and 3 characters.  One is good fun, but my favourite way to play is with two.  Doing this I am able to play with more characters more often and create different combos of characters that play off of each other and help cover each others weaker attributes.  Three was a bit too much and crossed that threshold of too much to keep track of for each character (at least for me).

 

Variability

I’ve heard several people claim on various online forums and sites that they think this game has low replay value.  Obviously this is their opinion and to them the game is definitely not re-playable, but I have a different opinion.  It is true that once you play through a scenario you will know the basic flow of the story line and what will occur, but there is more to the game than just the story.  There are five different factions in the game and each one has a different playstyle.  Guardians focus on combat and protecting other factions, Rogues are good at evading and sneaking around performing actions, survivors are good at getting out of sticky situations, seekers are your primary clue gatherers and help move the act deck along and finally mystics are a high risk high reward faction that can make big plays that may come with a potential negative cost.  Each one can give a scenario a different feel.  Also, each scenario has more than one ending depending on what happens during the course of play.  So, even if you have played a scenario before and seen the events played out each game will be very different depending on what characters your using and what encounter cards might come out and when.  I will also say that even though this review is focusing on the core box I have played all other expansion scenarios and can say that they grow and evolve in much more complex, variable and interesting ways.  The core box is meant as more of an introduction to the game mechanics and how they work, but I still found it quite enjoyable and played through the core campaign four or five times before moving on to anything else.

 

Final Thoughts

I’ve already stated that this is not only a game I love, but is in fact my number one game.  To me there is just so much to enjoy.  First  and foremost is the story.  You get an initial introduction to each scenario in the campaign guide and then the agenda and act deck also spice up the game by injecting story elements throughout the play of the game.  Once each scenario is ended you also get a little story snippet that will vary depending on how the game played out.  The game can also change ever so slightly in future scenarios depending on how well you have done and what choices you have made.  I have played many “narrative” games such as Agents of Smersh, Robinson Crusoe and Eldritch Horror, but in my opinion none of them can hold a candle to this one in terms of story.  I also like how you can pick different characters based on your playstyle and then customize them even further with how you construct your deck.  The cards are extremely thematic and really fit the feel and ability that they are trying to convey.  Spell cards can allow investigators to do incredible things, but they risk their sanity slipping further away. A quick dynamite tossed down can deal massive damage to a gang of enemies that is hunting for you.  Each character also starts with two unique weaknesses that can really throw a wrench in the works if drawn at the wrong time.  The cards are also multi-use, which is another thing I love.  They each depict an ability they convey to the player and a set of icons at the side.  Most cards can be discarded to use their icons to buff your stats in skill checks for fights, investigations and other actions.  So, you have to decide if you want to use a card to help with this current skill check I’m about to do or do I really want to save it because I love the ability it will give me.  Speaking of skill checks, I’m a big fan of the chaos tokens pulled from the bag as opposed to using dice.  Imagine reaching into the bag, rooting around, finally grasping a token you’ve decided to take a chance on, pulling your hand out and slowly opening your hand to determine how you’ve done on your check.  It is so much more satisfying than rolling a dice and seeing what happens and it also makes the difficulty very customizable.  Although, there may be a few negatives to the game depending on who you ask.  The game can be very random.  You have random card draws from your own decks, random draws from the encounter deck and random draws from the chaos bag.  So, if you don’t like randomness this game may not be for you.  With games like this you need randomness to create a challenge within the game and the difficulty can be adjusted, but it still may rub some the wrong way.  Some people may not be overly fond of having to construct decks before beginning to play.  It is a bit time consuming, but in my opinion not nearly as demanding as other games such as Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.  Also, if you want to be able to do more varied deck construction you will definitely have to get into buying expansion packs, which won’t be cheap.  Some will say you must get at least one extra core box.  If you want to play a four player game with just core material that is true.  The core box alone is not enough to build four decks, but I myself only own one core and that combined with expansions has been sufficient to build multiple decks at a time.  The rules can also be a bit tricky at first with different key words and smaller rules that can be hard to remember until you’ve gotten a few games under your belt.  Needless to say, I find this game to be outstanding and think that If you find the core box even mildly entertaining you should definitely give expansions a chance as they considerably increase the game in every aspect.  I have only had this game for about a year and a half, but it has already become my most played game by far.

Anachrony: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again!!!

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Well here goes, my first crack at writing a real review. I guess with Anachrony as my first one it’s a fitting, as I’ll wish I could stop myself from writing this if it doesn’t go well.

Theme

When it comes to Euro style games you have two kinds. Those that bring the theme out, at least a little, and those that could really have any theme because it doesn’t come through at all.  With Anachrony I think the developers did a good job on bringing theme through. A large part hinges on the time warping mechanic. Basically, you and any other players are trying to prepare for an oncoming meteor hit and near the game end are trying to save as many as you can once said hit has finally arrived.  Whomever was most efficient at performing their actions and gathering points will be the winner. The mechanic of warping various things back in time does a good job at providing theme, as does the various mechanics you use to accomplish your goal.

Components

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The components for this game are phenomenal.  The water and various resource cubes are represented by bright and colourful pieces. All the tokens are thick with good solid artwork. The game board and individual player boards are sturdy and nice to look at and all cards are good quality. Buildings and Superprojects are a bit abstract as they depict no artwork and have only basic iconography explaining their ability. The only indication you have of what it is you’re building is a name on the superproject tiles and only a number on the building tiles. I thought this would bother me at first as art in games is really something that draws me in, but the abilities of the buildings function well thematically and you can look up all the names of the individual building and what they do in the back of the rulebook. Iconography is all over the various boards and was a little daunting at first, but one flip through the rulebook and a practice solo game and they were quite easy to pick up on. A lot of pictures online also depict the fancy miniatures you can receive in the expansion. While they do look amazing I am happy with using only the tokens that come in the base game, which look nice as well.  The rulebook is very well written and clear and I never had any difficulty in understanding the rules. One thing, there was a change made to the solo rules after a loop hole was posted online about being able to beat the bot easily if you passed early every round.  The rules were adjusted so that the bot took at least three actions before passing.  This was not in my rulebook, but can be found online in an updated version and may be in future printings as well.

Art

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I won’t go on too long about the artwork and will simply say that it is great. All the images on the components are crisp and clear and do a good job of depicting a futuristic dystopian society. Even though some of the building do not depict any art, as I said above, they have clear iconography and good graphic design.  Art helps immerse me into a game, and the artwork in this game does just that.

Gameplay & Set Up

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The set-up for the game can be a little lengthy: organizing the goods, putting out workers, sorting a couple card piles, organizing buildings and superprojects, putting out the timeline. Then you have individual player set up such as: picking your faction boards and what side you’ll play on, getting your path board and starting resources, picking a leader card with an special ability. All-in-all about 15 minutes of set up, but that can be brought down with good organization of components, experience and help from other players. Gameplay centers around placing workers on player boards or the main board to perform actions such as gathering resources and workers as well as constructing buildings and superprojects.  To perform actions on the board you need powered up exosuits for your workers to use as it’s dangerous to go out into the world. Some workers are more efficient at certain actions and can get you bigger benefits or do not become tired when performing actions. Also, some spaces on the various boards can only be taken by specific workers.  There is a phase in the round where players can send various items back in time, such as workers, exosuits and resources, to give themselves a leg up in the action phase of the round. Warping these materials can be beneficial, but players must be careful as resources not paid back can potentially cause anomalies, which are negative points at game end if not gotten fixed.  Buildings and projects constructed during game give players special abilities, resources and the ability to travel back in time.  You go through several rounds until the meteor hits at which point a game timer of sorts starts.  Spaces on the board are made unavailable as they are used.  Its is during this time that players can take a special evacuation action depicted on their path board if they have fulfilled its requirements.  Requirements can be things like have a certain amount of  buildings or water. You earn points for fulfilling the requirement and some bonus points if you collected a certain combination of things depicted under the requirement.  This can be a huge source of points. Once the seventh round ends or all spaces are made unavailable the game ends. Points are tallied from various things such as points accrued during game and buildings.  Negative points are taken from anomalies and warped items that were never fulfilled. The person with the most points is the winner.  I haven’t played any of the expansion material and cannot speak to that, but it all looks interesting.

Solo

There is a solo version of this game where you are competing against a bot that takes actions based on a die roll that moves tokens around on a special board. I have played this several times with various factions.  The bot has certain resources and workers that it prefers and will take them when gathering those items. You play your turns and then roll the die and perform the action of the token depicting that number.  You then move the token down a path to the next action. If the bot cannot perform the action he gets two water and a point. The bot gets to perform at least 3 actions, but will pass once you have passed if he has performed at least that many actions. This was a very clever system and worked well. I played on easy the first couple of times allowing the bot to only take two water when not doing an action instead of a point as well. My win rate once playing normal seemed about 50/50 and is a good challenge. Your trying to be efficient and not give the bot too many opportunities to score points. The system is very clever and works well with the bot making it harder to perform actions on the main board by taking spots or even building buildings I wanted to build with a future action. I enjoyed my plays of this very much and it’s not only one of the better solo euros I’ve played, but one of the better solo games in general. I just hope that future expansions (and I’ve heard this may be the case) will incorporate the expansions into solo play.

Variability

The variability in this game, even without expansions, is quite high. You can play as different factions with basic sides or advanced sides, different path boards with different evacuation bonuses and even different leaders that give each player a different power adding asymmetry to the game, which I love. Different buildings and superprojects will also be available for different games meaning you won’t see the same ones in every game. Not only this, but the way resources and workers are seeded onto the board each round is changed by a deck of cards that says what is available. When playing non-solo their will also be five different end game scoring cards available that will change for each game. All this gives quite a bit of variability in itself.  Once you add in expansions and variants available at the back of the rulebook this game has a ton of variability.

Final Thoughts

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As you can probably tell I really love this game. Everything from the artwork to gameplay is fantastic.  For a game that seems daunting and really difficult to pick up it is quite intuitive and easy to follow.  The various phases and actions available flow very well and the iconography is clear and doesn’t slow the game down.  Gameplay is deep and strategic and gives you a lot to think about. You can try and build lots of buildings that give resources or help you warp more efficiently. Some generate points or can give you free actions that don’t cost a worker. Building superprojects can give abilities that make play even more varied and interesting.  Going for end game bonuses and your evacuation bonus give you something to plan for. There are just so many things to think about, but it never feels overwhelming. Resources and workers can be very tight as you never have quite enough to do everything you want.  I’ve heard people grumble that the time travel mechanic is just a glorified loan system.  I say whatever, it works, it’s thematic and it’s a whole lot of fun.  I just can’t say enough great things about this game.  I don’t have a top 50 or 100 list, but if I did I imagine this game would definitely be top 20 material, maybe even top 10 for me.

Classroom Game Design

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Seeds of an Idea

I teach at an elementary school and have tried to share my love of gaming. I run a board game club once or twice a week, but don’t get a lot of regular attendance. The school is quite small in a rural community so I wanted a way to bring games more into the classroom. I’ve had a few little activities I’ve made up, but this was my first foray into an actual board game type of design. With the end of the year coming up I thought I would make a kind of Frankenstein game containing several different ideas.

The Math involved

Numeracy is very important in the math curriculum and it’s what I start my year with so we can build and practice on skills throughout the year. Due to this I like to do a good amount of review at the end of the year to make sure students are still developing and using skills we’ve learned in the first half of the year. I wanted the game to focus on skills such as skip counting, place value (base ten blocks), estimating, addition and subtraction. I also wanted to throw in patterns as they are very important and then a section that could be used to touch on things such as sorting, ordering numbers and odd/even numbers.

Gameplay

The game as a whole is worker placement. Each person has two pawns used to take actions. The pawns are used similar to games like “Charterstone” and “Asking for Trobils”. You can either place one of your pawns on a spot to take that action or pick up both pawns if they are both on the board. This part of the strategy is a bit lost on the young ones. They don’t quite get the subtle strategy of trying to force their opponents to use a turn picking up their pieces, but I wanted to tack on some mechanic for how many actions they could take. So, there are really no rounds. Just a series of turns until someone reaches the end game. Each person starts with a certain amount of money as some spaces require money. I decided to make the end game more of a race. Depending on the students abilities it is a race to 15 or 20 points.

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game in progress

 

The spots on the board that can be chosen all do various things. Estimating can earn you cash that you need at two other spots. You can also earn cash and points at another location where you create patterns. Cash earned can be use to buy base ten blocks used to build constucts depicted on cards. Once built the student counts the base ten blocks and gets points based on the difficulty of the construct. Cash can also be used to acquire cards with various math problems with a range in difficulty. This space can be altered depending on the grade and can be used to do various types of operations. These cards once completed let you cash them in at the mart to move a player chip around a set number of spaces on the board. When you pass designated spots on the track you get to look at a secret card adjacent to that spot. The cards in the secret pouches all have something in common such as shape, size, colour, odd/even numbers etc. Players get more points being the first, second, etc. person to figure out the sorting rule. This could even be used to find out all the numbers and then their required to put them ascending order.

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Some of the cards from the game

 

Thoughts and Musings

The students seem to really have taken to the game and quite enjoy it. This is of course a work in progress and there are things to tweak. I’d really like to make a really good looking copy once I’m happier with where things are at. I really want to try and incorporate games more into the classroom as they really engage all students and make learning so much fun.

Gotta Start Somewhere

Here we go!

Games

Well, I guess I might as well jump in head first. I’m gonna keep this first post short and sweet as I’m not expecting many people to be reading this. Quick intro about myself. My names Eli and I currently live in RM Canwood in Saskatchewan, Canada. I started this site because I wanted to have a place to write my thoughts on my nerdy endeavors, which will mainly consist of board gaming. There will definitely be a focus on solo gaming as I live in the middle of nowhere and love games WAY more than anyone nearby. Up top you can see a snapshot of my humble collection. A few of my other interests include comics, reading, movies and video games. I’m also a grade 2 teacher and try to share my passion of gaming with students and people in the local community. I run a board game club at school and have a monthly meet up I run in town once a month with a small following. I hope to keep this going and am thankful for anyone who follows me along for the ride.