Gnomi

Gnomi box frontI backed this game on Kickstarter.

The game: Gnomi by Brian Fouts, published by Poppy Jasper Games in 2017 following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Elevator pitch: 10-minute filler card game that doesn’t require a table to play – just keep your cards in your hand and put the decks in your pocket!

What’s in the box? Small, sturdy box has a magnetic lid and contains a deck of 25 mushroom cards and 21 gnome cards, a 7 card expansion and rules.

The cards are of decent quality; not great, but nice. The art is ok, and at least the cards are easy to use.

The cards might benefit from sleeves, but while the box looks like it could hold sleeved cards, it doesn’t: even thin, close-fit sleeves make the deck too thick so the lid doesn’t close.

What do you do in the game? Everybody starts with four mushroom cards and three gnomes. No additional cards are drawn during the game.

On your turn, you have three options: use one mushroom card and request a mushroom of the same colour from another player, use two mushroom cards to take one random mushroom from another player, or use a gnome power. If you can’t do anything, you can always pass, but that requires you to mark a card used.

Used cards are flipped upside down: the mushroom become compost and the gnomes go to sleep. If all your cards are upside down, you’re out of the game. The last player to stay in the game wins the round.

Gnome cards let you steal mushrooms from other players, flip cards back from the compost, wake sleeping gnomes, put opposing gnomes to sleep and so on.

Lucky or skillful? Lots of luck. Early game is mostly lucky guesses. During the game you get useful information, when you see mushrooms going from one player to another, and you can use that to remove some luck. But it’s still very heavy on luck.

Abstract or thematic? The gnome theme is silly and makes a tiny bit sense, but mostly it could anything.

Solitaire or interactive? Quite a bit of interaction: you’re trying to steal cards from your opponents after all. You choose who you attack, sometimes you know who has the cards you want, sometimes you’re just picking someone at random.

Players: 2–6. The two-player game didn’t impress me much; seems quite pointless. I’ve tried with 2–4 players, and based on that I’d guess this is a game for 4–6 people.

Who can play? Age recommendation is 12+, but that’s too high. Players must be able to read and hold their cards hidden from other players, but kids who can do that can play this game just fine. There’s some strategic nuance that smaller kids won’t figure out, but it’s not tricky.

What’s to like: Simple rules, very easy to teach; doesn’t require a table to play; doesn’t last too long.

What’s not to like: Heavy emphasis on lucky guessing; boring art.

My verdictGnomi has an interesting promise: it’s a card game you can play anywhere. That’s true: you have seven cards per player, those cards never leave someone’s hand. If you do have a table, putting sleeping gnomes and composted mushrooms on the table does make the game slightly easier to follow.

Gnomi is pretty heavy on luck, though. Your gnomes can be useful or not, and that depends on luck. In the beginning there’s no information, so it’s all up to lucky guesses.

The game has player elimination, but it’s mercifully short. Playing several rounds doesn’t take long and balances some of the luck. I think the art should be more spiffy – right now the game doesn’t really look as attractive as a light low-barrier-of-entry game like this should.

On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Gnomi gets Indifferent from me.

Träxx

TräxxI bought a new copy of this game myself.

The game: Träxx by Steffen Benndorf and Reinhard Staupe, published by Nürnberger-Spiele-Verlag in 2015.

Elevator pitch: A quick simultaneous play route-building filler. May the best route win!

What’s in the box? Four boards, four dry-erase pens, fifteen cards and rules. The components are minimalistic, but perfectly functional.

Colours are bright and everything looks chippy. I’m slightly worried that colourblind people may have trouble with this game, but it wouldn’t be a complicated task to scan a board, adjust the colours a bit, then print and laminate a new board.

What do you do in the game? Players try to draw a line that covers as much of their board as possible. Game lasts for fifteen rounds and on each round, a card is drawn. The card tells which colours are ok this turn. If a card says “yellow, yellow, blue, red and white”, you can draw on two yellow hexes, one blue, one red and one white.

The line can be extended from both ends, and you have to watch out so you keep your options open and don’t fence yourself in.

There are scoring locations on the board, numbered 1–10 and scoring the same. Here’s the only bit of interaction: the first player to reach the location scores the full points, on later turns only half the points are awarded. In the end of the game, players lose one point per unvisited hex. Highest score wins.

Lucky or skillful? Both, in a good mixture. The cards involve some luck, and while everybody sees the same cards, there’s some luck involved in how well the cards suit what you’ve drawn. (Everybody starts from a different hex, so that also means the cards have slightly different value to each player.) You can definitely play poorly.

Abstract or thematic? The game is abstract, with no suggestion of theme.

Solitaire or interactive? Almost zero interaction, as is usual in the genre.

Players: 1–4. Solo game is a point-chaser, which seems like it would be boring. Adding players is possible, if you buy a new copy or create more boards yourself.

Who can play? Age recommendation is 8+. The rules are dead simple, but winning the game does require an amount of forward planning that most small children don’t have. Let’s put it this way: anybody can play, but not everybody can win.

Those who are colour blind may have some difficulties, especially dichromats.

Length: 15 minutes.

What’s to like: Really simple rules; good level of challenge; plays swiftly.

What’s not to like: Almost zero player interaction; supports just four players out of the box.

My verdictTräxx is a fine example in the coupon-filling genre. Not my favourite, though, Avenue would probably be my number one choice. However, it’s fairly cheap and a small box, so why not. It’d be nice to have support for five or even six players without buying another copy, though.

The biggest problem for Träxx is availability, as it has only been released in Germany. If you’re buying games from Germany, adding Träxx to your order is a good idea if you like the genre. Alone, it’s probably not worth the effort to hunt down.

On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Träxx gets Suggest from me.

A game of Träxx

Heat

HeatI bought an used copy of this game myself.

The game: Heat by Dave Chalker and Chris Cieslik, published by Asmadi Games in 2015.

Elevator pitch: Heist-themed drafting game, with artwork inspired by Saul Bass.

What’s in the box? 34 cards, a small board, bunch of cubes and some plastic chips for money. Component-wise, this is almost a micro game.

The card art has a distinct Saul Bass -inspired style, which sets the mood nicely. The component quality is decent.

What do you do in the game? The game has three rounds. On each round, players draft a hand of five cards using a limited-information draft that slowly introduces more cards to the draft.

Players then play four rounds where they play one card simultaneously and the cards are then resolved. The fifth card remains unplayed.

Cards gain you money, which is good, and heat, which is bad. After three rounds of drafting and playing, players must pay off the heat, which gets more expensive the more players have it in total, and then the player with the most money wins.

Lucky or skillful? There’s a good balance between skill and luck, for a quick card game like this. Of course you’re limited by the cards you draw (and your friends pass you), but there’s also skill involved in how you use the cards you have for best effect.

Abstract or thematic? The heist theme works quite well. Sure, it’s a bit abstract, but the theme works and makes sense.

Solitaire or interactive? There isn’t much direct interaction, but the draft injects some interaction to the proceedings, and some cards require you to think of what your opponents are doing.

Players: 3–5. Some cards are removed on lower player counts to balance things. The game works will with all player counts, four is probably the best.

Who can play? Age recommendation is 13+, but that’s probably for toy safety requirements. I’d say 10+ is probably ok. The cards require some level of reading. There are better drafting games for family use (Best Treehouse Ever and Sushi Go come to mind).

Length: 20–30 minutes.

What’s to like: Cool card art; enough space for interactive drafting; the theme works well.

What’s not to like: Just another drafting game.

My verdictHeat is a fine game. I’m not a huge fan of the drafting genre in general, but Heat does a fine job of providing some space for planning and luck. There are enough cards that have interactions and depend on other players so that you really have to think what you’ve seen in the draft and what your opponents might play.

In the end, Heat still fails to really capture my attention. Other drafting games are, in the end, better. Still, Heat is worth trying, if not necessary worth buying. Fans of small drafting games will find this game worth their money.

On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Heat gets Indifferent from me.Heat cards

Dungeon Rush

I received a free review copy from the publisher. The game: Dungeon Rush by father and son team Rustan and Eli Håkansson, published by Lautapelit.fi in 2016. Elevator pitch: Slapjack in a dungeon. Turn over monster cards and slap the ones your heroes can beat. What’s in the box? Bunch of cards: 10 oversized hero cards and 110 … Continue reading Dungeon Rush

Triominos Tribalance

I received a free review copy from the Finnish distributor. The game: Triominos Tribalance by Michael Sohre, published by Goliath in 2013. Originally published as Tri-Ba-Lance by Theta Games in 1995. Elevator pitch: A balancing challenge: try to get the best pieces on the best locations on a wobbly board without unbalancing the board. What’s in the box? There’s … Continue reading Triominos Tribalance

Dokmus

Dokmus is published by Lautapelit.fi, and I received a free review copy from the publisher. The game: Dokmus by Mikko Punakallio, published by Lautapelit.fi in 2016. Elevator pitch: A tactical puzzle. Twist and move the boards in order to expand your influence all over the board. What’s in the box? There are eight double-sided board tiles that are used to … Continue reading Dokmus

Scotland Yard Junior

Scotland Yard Junior is published in Finland by Ravensburger, and I received a free review copy from the Finnish distributor. The game: Scotland Yard Junior by Michael Schacht, published by Ravensburger in 2015. Elevator pitch: A new version of the old classic Scotland Yard, redesigned for children. The game has been simplified a lot and feels like a different game, … Continue reading Scotland Yard Junior

Rüben Rallye

Rüben Rallye is published in Finnish as Kaniralli by Haba, and I received a free review copy from the Finnish distributor Tevella. The game: Rüben Rallye by Sylvain Ménager, published by Haba in 2016. Elevator pitch: Beautiful roll and move game for kids, but with an added element of distance approximation thrown in. What’s in the box? Haba is known for … Continue reading Rüben Rallye

Kakerlaloop

Kakerlaloop is published in Finnish as La Cucaracha Loop by Ravensburger, and I received a free review copy. The game: Kakerlaloop by Inka and Markus Brand, published by Ravensburger in 2015. Elevator pitch: Roll and move your bugs across the board, but watch out for the Hexbug Nano cockroach that tries to bump the bugs off the spaces. What’s … Continue reading Kakerlaloop

Fashion Show

Fashion Show is published by Finnish Peliko, and I received a free review copy. The game: Fashion Show by Theora Design, published by Peliko in 2016. Elevator pitch: A simple tile-laying pattern recognition game with a Top Model -like fashion theme. What’s in the box? A large board checkered with different cloth patterns, a bunch of thin cards. The … Continue reading Fashion Show