Dale of Merchants

Dale of MerchantsDale of Merchants is currently running a Kickstarter campaign. I backed it, because the game looks interesting, has nice art, was cheap and is Finnish – plenty of reason to back a game, that is. Since I’m something of a big name in the Finnish board game scene, the designer asked me if I’d like to get a set of PnP cards for the game so I could try it out, and I agreed. Thus, if you care about things like that, yes, I’m rather biased here.

The game: Dale of Merchants by Sami Laakso, published by Snowdale Design in 2015, hopefully (if you wonder about all those dales, “Laakso” is “dale” in Finnish).

Elevator pitch: Quick and easy-going deck-building game (but not a Dominion clone!), where you have to sacrifice cards from your deck in order to win.

What’s in the box? There’s 110 cards, a small board and a die. The board is not essential, you can live without it if you prefer portability. The card art is also by the designer, and while that often is not a good thing, in this case it is: the art is lovely, for the most part. The card design is also clean and easy to use.

Since all I have now is a PnP version, I can’t speak of the quality, but the Kickstarter campaign promises heavy cardstock with linen finish.

What do you do in the game? The goal is simple: whoever first builds eight market stalls wins, right away. The stalls are sets of cards with values 1–8 in ascending order. Each stall may only contain cards of one colour (each colour is a type of animal, and in each game you choose n+1 animal types to include in the game; there are six in the set and if the game is successful, there’s more to come).

On your turn, you do one action: buy a card, create a stall, play a technique card from your hand or discard cards from your hand. Then you do not discard the rest of your hand, but instead just draw up to five. Also, when you buy a card, you take it directly to your hand.

Cards are bought from a market queue of five cards. First card bears no extra price, next one costs +1, the third one +2 and so on. Cards have a value, which is both the price and their value as currency or in a stall.

There are three kinds of cards: technique cards that do something interesting (and may grant you another action), passive cards that let you bend the rules by just having them in your hand and advanced action cards that also let you bend the rules, for example to create a stall that has mixed colors.

So, in order to win, you need to acquire helpful cards, then create stalls out of them. That empties your deck, so you need to acquire more cards and so on. There’s a plenty of combo potential. The actual flavour of the game depends on the animals chosen: for example the Thieving Northern Raccoons have lots of cards that let you mess with the other players, so the game will feel very different whether the Raccoons are in play or not.

Lucky or skillful? Dale of Merchants is a light card game, so of course there’s plenty of luck. However, there’s also room for skill, as you must consider timing, come up with combos and so on. I’d say the skilled player will most of the time, but not always. If you include the Lucky Ocelots, the level of luck and chaos will jump up.

Abstract or thematic? The animal art is cute. The game would feel a bit abstract, but since the different animals have very different styles of play that gives the game some thematic flavour. A bit like in Blue Moon, really.

Solitaire or interactive? Add the Raccoons, and it gets really interactive. Without the Raccoons, there’s less direct interaction, but given the sudden death ending, pacing yourself with the other players is crucial. Solitaire-ish, but you have to keep an eye on your opponents.

Players: 2–4, and based on my experiences with two and three players, I’d say the full scale should work just fine. I’ll probably prefer the smaller games myself.

Who can play? Age recommendation is 12+, but that’s too high. My son who is nine plays this without problems (well, would play, if the cards were in Finnish), so I’d say 8+ for experienced gamer kids, 10+ for others. Were the cards in Finnish, I think my son could play this with his friends without my help.

Length: 20–30 minutes, this is not a long game.

What’s to like: Lovely art; simple, yet interesting game mechanics; new take on deck-building; variability from the animal decks.

What’s not to like: Light; lucky.

My verdict: I wasn’t disappointed. I like deck-building games and don’t mind lighter games. For gamers, Dale of Merchants is a filler, but it packs quite a bit of game in a small package. I like that, and the game has certainly enough interesting decisions. It’s also good that it isn’t a Dominion clone.

I’m really hoping the Kickstarter campaign succeeds, because I think the game is fun. I also hope it’s successful enough so we can see some additional animal packs – the basic structure of this game is built to be expanded, and ideas are already running fast on BGG forums.

On the scale of EnthusiasticSuggestIndifferent or AvoidDale of Merchants gets Suggest from me.

Dale of Merchants cards

June 2015 new and noteworthy

Age of War: Horrible game. Simple filler game, roll dice and conquer tiles by rolling the right symbols. In theory pretty good, but gets really annoying really quick, because conquering the tiles is seriously difficult. Avoid.

Age of War, an exercise in frustration. #boardgame #boardgames

Kuva, jonka Mikko Saari (@mikkosaari) julkaisi

Nations: The Dice Game: I first tried this in November, but finally got my own copy in June. It’s pretty good, and whatever concerns I had based on the four-player game are non-existing in the two-player game. That’s what I’ll mostly play in the future, it’s a decent game that way – less so with four players. Suggest.

The Roman civilization is amazing, as usual. Nations: The Dice Game is fun. #boardgames #boardgame

Kuva, jonka Mikko Saari (@mikkosaari) julkaisi

Cacao: Family-friendly tile-laying game. Simple, looks pretty good, is fun to play – but I’ve now played ~5 games and am somewhat bored, already, so not a keeper in the end. But if you’re looking for something for the family, this might be worth trying. Indifferent.

Cacao – seems like a fun little tile-layer. #boardgames #boardgame

Kuva, jonka Mikko Saari (@mikkosaari) julkaisi

At the Gates of Loyang: I’ve had good experiences with Uwe Rosenberg games recently and this was no exception. Kind of fiddly, so I get it why this hasn’t received the love Uwe’s better titles get, but I like this: the game suits my tastes quite well. Suggest.

Serving customers, unhappy as they are. At the Gates of Loyang is a fun game. #boardgames #boardgame Kuva, jonka Mikko Saari (@mikkosaari) julkaisi

Lost Legacy: Advanced Love Letter. Not quite as good, but this’ll see at least ~10 plays before I’m done with this, the interplay between cards seems fascinating enough. (My kids really like Love Letter, by the way.) Suggest.

Serving customers, unhappy as they are. At the Gates of Loyang is a fun game. #boardgames #boardgame

Kuva, jonka Mikko Saari (@mikkosaari) julkaisi

1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties: I had skipped the kickstarter (well, at least the second, successful one), but when people started talking about stock running low, I decided I have to get this. Mike Hutton does wonders, I really like 1860, so this seemed like a good move. I got to play the game, and yeah, it wasn’t a miss. Lots of stuff in it, and it is quite confusing to begin with, but everything makes sense in the end and as is typical for Hutton, the end game, often the weakest part of 18xx games, is well done. Suggest.

Been a while from my previous 18XX game. 1862 seems like a good game. #boardgames #boardgame #jycon #18xx Kuva, jonka Mikko Saari (@mikkosaari) julkaisi

1846: Noteworthy, not new. I had owned this, then sold it, then repurchased it from Golden Spike Games, skipping the queue. It was worth it. This is one of the best 18xx games and I really want to have this in my collection. Couple of reasons: there’s good variability in the setup; I really like the private draft instead of an auction; the game can be played in less than three hours, and it still doesn’t feel like a short game.

Survey Party is an interesting helper app for playing 18xx games. #boardgames #boardgame #jycon #18xx

Kuva, jonka Mikko Saari (@mikkosaari) julkaisi

Roads & Boats: Another bought-sold-rebought game. I got this one last year, and today had a chance to get it on the table with my son. We played a game, he seemed to enjoy it and I managed to produce my first share ever (that’s the ultimate achievement in Roads & Boats, the best thing you can do; of course, then you can set the goal to producing more shares). So, success. Next, I’ll introduce him to Antiquity

Two competing kingdoms in Roads & Boats. #boardgames #boardgame #splotter Kuva, jonka Mikko Saari (@mikkosaari) julkaisi

I decided I’ll try to give this old blog a bit of a boost, so I’m going to post these posts once a month. Let’s see how many months I can do; I’m betting on three.

Co-Mix

Co-MixI have done the Finnish translation of this game, and got a free copy from the Finnish publisher.

The game: Co-Mix by Lorenzo Silva, published by Horrible Games in 2014.

Elevator pitch: Story-telling game, where you create your story by laying picture cards on a six- or nine-panel comic page. Stories are then told and scored, but there’s a clever twist in the scoring.

What’s in the box? Box contains five player boards, quite a big pile of cards and lots of cardboard tokens for players. There’s a nice scoring track in the box insert. Art is nice. The cards remind me of business cards more than playing cards, thanks to the material and the sharp corners, and I’m afraid they’ll get worn in play. Other than that, no complaints about the components.

What do you do in the game? The game play is really simple. A story title is chosen. Everybody gets twelve cards (doublesided, so 24 pictures to choose from!). Players must then lay six (or nine, for the advanced version) cards on the board to form a story.

First player to complete the story turns the 90-second timer, and if you’re not done when the sand runs out, you have to fill the rest randomly. Better be quick, then!

Stories are then told. Players must include every picture somehow and in the correct order. Feel free to embellish the story as much as you want, but keep it fairly short.

Stories are then rated. Each player has five scoring tokens: two neutral tokens and one for originality, one for composition and one for the emotional excitement. You must give each story – including your own! – one token.

Tokens are then revealed. Neutral tokens are discarded. Then consensus is found: for each category of tokens, find the story that got the most tokens. Those tokens remain, the other tokens in that category are removed. Repeat this for all three categories.

Now, every token remaining on your story is worth one point, and each of your tokens that remains is worth two points. So, it’s important to both tell a good story (be it original, exciting or well-composed) and also to rate honestly.

The scoring is really quite clever and works well to keep players honest and the game interesting.

Lucky or skillful? Co-Mix is a light party game. There’s some luck – your hand of cards may or may not be helpful in telling the story – but the rest is up to you. Tell a good story, and you’ll get points, but you also need to read the other players and evaluate the other stories. Skill rules, but Co-Mix doesn’t feel like a heavy game.

Abstract or thematic? The comic panels are interesting and have lots of potential for interesting stories. Highly thematic, I’d say.

Solitaire or interactive? Creating the story is something you do yourself, but the essence of the game is in telling the stories to the other players.

Players: Large range from 3 to 10. There can only be five stories, though, so from six players on the game is played with two-player teams. To me, that sounds horrible, so for me Co-Mix is a 3–5 player game. Others may disagree.

Who can play? Box says 8+, which is decent – my son could play the game – but that depends very much on the child. The players must enjoy story-telling, and that’s somewhat restrictive for adults as well.

Length: Each round takes about 10 minutes or so, and you can play as many rounds as you wish. Three is nice for a short game, but nothing prevents you from playing longer if you’re having a good time.

What’s to like: Nice, coherent art; clever scoring mechanism; supports a wide range of player counts.

What’s not to like: The card material is weak; team game sounds iffy.

My verdict: I see what this game is trying to achieve, and I think it does a marvelous job at it. Most of the games like this are fun to play in the right company and are a way to have a good time, but often fall a bit short on the scoring. Co-Mix doesn’t, the scoring works really well.

That said, I can’t see myself playing this more than once or twice per year; I simply don’t play these kinds of games. It’s not the fault of this game, it’s just the way it is.

On the scale of EnthusiasticSuggestIndifferent or AvoidCo-Mix gets Indifferent from me, but if you play these kinds of party games, Co-Mix is well worth a Suggest.

Co-Mix story

Kyoto Protocol

This review is based on a review copy given by Roll D6. I know the designer and have met him several times in Finnish game events. The game: Kyoto Protocol by Petri Savola, published by Roll D6 in 2015. Elevator pitch: Power Grid: The Filler Card Game. An energy-themed filler card game with a very flexible player count (2–7, and … Continue reading Kyoto Protocol

Gaming Year 2014

Another good year, can’t complaing. 2013 was good, and 2014 improved upon that. We bought a house this year and moved in, and that meant I got a bookshelf in my office I could use for games. With most of my games visible there, my son’s interest was piqued, and we ended up trying lots of different games. … Continue reading Gaming Year 2014

Jungle Rumble

The game: Jungle Rumble by Eros Lin, Nightsorrow Chou and Zeldaaa Ling, published by ErosGames in 2013. Elevator pitch: Puerto Rico action selection meets Agricola farming and feeding in a small box with cute kittens. What’s in the box? The small box is packed with field tiles, kitten tiles, action tiles, cardboard food tokens and wooden bits for water ways, stores and … Continue reading Jungle Rumble

Games with my son

My son has become my most regular board game opponent. We often play in the mornings: on weekends and on schooldays when his school starts on 9. He’s eight years old, and quite the gamer, and here’s what we play now: Agricola — We play the family game, and recently started using the Farmers of the … Continue reading Games with my son

My 2014 top 100: 20–1

Here’s the final installment of my list. See the previous part. Now we’re getting to seriously good games. 20–19 String Railway — Build railways of strings. Simple, sometimes frustratingly imprecise, but all the same very charming. This is a delightful game, a lovely filler in a small box that works with a full range of … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 20–1