I bought a copy of Twenty One from a trip to Amsterdam as a souvenir.
The game: Twenty One by Steffen Benndorf and Reinhard Staupe, published by NSV in Germany and White Goblin in Netherlands in 2017.
Elevator pitch: Another quick die-rolling, coupon-filling game that keeps everybody active on everyone’s turn.
What’s in the box? A pad of scoring sheets, rules and six colourful six-sided dice. No pencils, this time, so provide your own. Everything is well-designed, looks nice and doesn’t take any more space than is necessary. It’s all very convenient and lovely.
What do you do in the game? The goal is to score points by filling your coupon with rolled numbers. You score from two sources: the raw sum of your rolls and the amount of exact hits you get. More is better.
The spaces on your sheet are colour coded, dictating which dice you can use to fill those spaces. Each space also has a number: that’s the maximum value you can enter there, and if you match it, you get an exact hit bonus.
The active player rolls all six dice and gets one reroll. If you reroll, you must reroll everything, except ones, which you’re not allowed to reroll.
Then everybody must use at least one number. You’re allowed to take as many as you wish, but only on the row you’re currently filling. You must take one, but if you can’t (eg. you’re only missing one number, and that die has a bigger number than you can take), you must cross out the leftmost open space on the row you’re on – and since the biggest numbers are on the left, that’s usually unpleasant.
Once you fill a row, you can then move on to the next row on the next roll, and whoever fills their fifth row first gets to end the game for everybody. Sum your scores, and the highest score wins.
Lucky or skillful? Very lucky. There’s some decision-making involved, mostly judgements on how many compromises should you make. I’m not sure you can play this particularly well – can’t really tell what’s a good move in this game – but you can definitely make bad moves.
Abstract or thematic? Abstract.
Solitaire or interactive? It’s a competitive solitaire. No interaction, but it’s a race, and how fast other players are filling up their coupons should affect how fast you’re moving, because if you lag behind, you’re going to lose.
Players: 2–6. The box has plenty of sheets, but there are only six different colour combinations in the pad, and it’s best if everybody has a different combination. Even though everybody is active on all turns, I’m pretty sure this is more fun with fewer players.
Who can play? Age recommendation is 8+, and I think it’s quite accurate. Certainly not higher, and smaller kids can play but not necessarily do well, unless they’re good with their numbers.
What’s to like: Well-designed, well-executed; plays fast, keeps everybody active all the time.
What’s not to like: It’s really quite lucky.
My verdict: Twenty One joins the line of Qwixx and Qwinto. All three are very good replacements for Yahtzee. Yahtzee is a fine game, but compared to these new, sleek games, the old classic is a boring downtime sessions, as you wait for other players to roll. All these new games keep everybody active on every round.
I like how Twenty One forces each player to act on each round; in Qwixx and Qwinto that’s always voluntary for the non-active players. Then again, those two games are probably slightly more strategic than Twenty One. All three are good die-rolling fillers, though, and I’d be happy to play any of them.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Twenty One gets Suggest from me.
2013 was a very good year of board games, just like 2012 was before it.
My kids and I have continued to play lots of games. My son is now seven and half, and can play quite complicated games. My daughter, soon five, is also a bright little gamer, and much less prone to throwing fits over lost games.
I’ve continued my weekly Thursday evening game nights. The circus school games I enjoyed last year didn’t work out quite so well this Fall, though. I visited Ropecon, but didn’t play that many games, as I made the trip with my son this year, to introduce him to some proper geek culture, and I also made trips to Lautapelaamaan and JunaCon.
Photography is one thing that did suffer, I didn’t take much photos of games outside the few pictures I had to take for reviews of games that didn’t have good photos available.
Suburbia was a 2012 game in my mind, but looks like I first played it Jan 3rd this year. I clocked in more than ten games. It’s a great game, just the kind of building game I like. The expansion, Suburbia Inc., arrived late this year and I’ve only managed two games so far, but I liked it. The iOS version made it this year as well, and I’ve enjoyed that one as well, and I sure wish the real game played that fast…
Machi Koro was the odd Japanese gem of the year. It was a late arrival, I only heard of it after Essen. I got to play it in Lautapelaamaan con, and then I had to order the game from Japan and I also did a Finnish DIY version of it. Result? More than ten games in less than two months. My son likes this, and I like it a lot as well, either the base game or with the expansion.
Continental Dividewas the one game in the Winsome Games Essen set I didn’t expect to be interested in, but it turned out to be the best of the set. We played it four times within less than two months. Well, it hasn’t seen the tables since August, but I’m sure we’ll return to it at some point. It’s a fascinating game.
Qwixx was an impulse purchase from the local game store; I was buying something else, card sleeves most likely, and saw the game for 10 euros. I had heard good things about it, so I decided to buy it – and now I’ve played it twenty times, and it’s one of my favourite fillers at the moment.
A Study in Emerald was a Kickstarter purchase, and the most successful one I’ve been involved with. Sure, there were some trouble with this, but I got the game and it’s good. It’s very fascinating. It’s a bit on the complicated side to explain, so it would benefit from having repeat plays, so we’ll see how much play it does get, but I do like it.
Indigo is quite unremarkable game, really, but I bought it on a whim, thinking it might be a good game to play with the kids, and I wasn’t wrong. It’s very pleasant to play and looks good. It’s similar to Metro, but I think it’s better.
Russian Railroads only got one play, but this one sure looks like a good worker placement game. We’ll see how much play this’ll actually get, but at least it’s a good game and doesn’t take too long; that was my main worry about this.
Coup is cool. Not universally loved, and looks like this is the 2013 game Tuomo hates and I like (The Great Zimbabwe held that honour in 2012). With five or six players, this is an excellent filler. We also played The Resistance: Avalon, which in my opinion is much superior to the original game.
Ab in die Tonne is the third game by that title. It’s quite luck-heavy, but it has nice wooden components and it works wonders as a family game.
Carcassonne: South Seas was something I wouldn’t have bought myself, but I’m glad I got it. It turned out quite an entertaining Carcassonne variant, one my son likes, and I like it as well. The new scoring mechanism is a refreshing change.
Augustus sounded pretty good based on the Lautapeliopas review, and I got it in a trade. That was a good move: this turned out to be a pretty good filler that works with a wide array of player counts. I’ve just had some extraordinary trouble playing with the correct rules, for such a light game…
Good older games I haven’t played before
London was a trade acquisition. My friend got it from the Treefrog subscription, but I never played it, for some reason or another. It was interesting enough to trade for, and it turned out to be quite good. Nothing I couldn’t live without, sure, but well worth exploring a bit.
EuroRails was my introduction to crayon rails. I’ve always dismissed the series as boring and overly long, but looks like I was wrong. Eric Brosius got me to try EuroRails, and it turned out the series is very much my cup of tea: I like building track and moving cargo around. It’s basically a solitaire race, with very little interaction, but when has that been a problem? The game isn’t too long, either, if you keep the player count down. Ok, I didn’t play this many times, and most of the times I played with my son, who is not quite old enough to actually play the game, but still – I was very glad to discover the world of crayon rails, and once my son gets few years older, I think this might become a staple game in our household.
New York Central is an older Winsome title I got to play in JunaCon. Even though we had too many players – the game does not shine with five – I was able to see there’s a good game in it. I also knew getting to play it with the Winsome edition would be tricky. So, I ended up doing a DIY edition, which turned out great. Of course, when I design something myself, it’s guaranteed to match my taste, so of course I love it… But yeah, I’ve since managed to play it some more, with the three players it needs to shine. It’s a really good game and it’s a shame no publisher has picked it up. It’s one of those games where you really have to play it once to figure it out, and then you’re ready to roll.
Australian Railways was another old Winsome I got to the table. This one is in the Age of Steam family tree, and pretty good too – probably the best title in the Early Railways series. I like it, but like Age of Steam, this is a bit difficult to get on the table.
Here’s a list of all children’s games that we played at least five times. It’s interesting to see how the games change year after year. Some classics remain, some turn out to be less popular, in the end. The situations and the ages matter. I’ve had fewer chances to play games with just my son, we’ve had to include my daughter as well, which has changed the games a bit.
Das kleine Gespenst took the first spot on the list with almost 40 plays. It used to be my daughter’s favourite game, but I think that honor belongs to Ghost Blitz now. My son doesn’t play this as much anymore, so I don’t think this game will be at the top of the list next year.
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings Deck-Building Game isn’t a children’s game, but it was my second most played game with the kids.
Fleeting Foxes got over 20 plays, mostly requested by my daughter. And why not? This is a cute Haba game. It’s simple roll-and-move, but with a good twist: one player at the time rolls dice for everybody, assigning the dice one at the time. There’s some luck and some evaluation of probabilities involved.
Memory, usually in the form of Tatu ja Patu muistipeli, got lots of plays. I still usually beat the kids in this one, but they’ve got better.
Ghost Blitz is my daughter’s new favourite. We have the 2.0 as well, but my daughter always requests “the Old Blitz”. It has been great to see how she has progressed with the game. She used to be pretty slow with the game – sometimes she’d grab the easiest cards, but not always. We practised the game a bit, and now she’s better than my son and can almost compete with me. She’s improved a lot, and that fills me with pride.
Colorpop is a fun, simple game the kids ask for every now and then. I’m still not perfectly sure if this is a game of skill or a game of luck…
Gulo Gulo keeps getting requested by my daughter, and I still like to play it.
Richard Scarry’s Busytown won the Finnish Game of the Year award a while ago, and for a good reason, it seems, as it keeps on getting plays. As far as family co-ops go, it’s pretty high on my lists as well.
Animal upon Animal has progressed from being a toy to being a game, my daughter requests this every now and then.
Indigo was mentioned before; it belongs here on this list.
Trans Europe+ got a new life with my son. He likes the game, and actually does quite well in it. My opinion of the game certainly improved, I used to hate Trans America. Why, I’m not so sure anymore, as the game is actually very good family game: simple, easy and fun. I do prefer the Europe version, if only for the more familiar map.
Da ist der Wurm drin got almost as many plays as it did last year; it remains a favourite and at least tolerable for all family. As far as brainless roll-and-move games are considered, this is one of the best.
Klack! gets requests every now and then. I’m not a huge fan, because this is a speed game where I’ll either dominate or play bad on purpose.
Geistertreppe missed the list last year, but is back now, now that we have three able players. My daughter asks for the game occasionally.
Die kleinen Drachenritter tops the list of new childrens games I got as a review copy – so our family gaming is not particularly focused on new games. This is a fun stacking game, if a bit prone to accidents when somebody bumps the game. It’s also perhaps a bit on the easy side, and could use some added difficulty. The more I play, the less I seem to like this.
Schildkrötenrennen gets plays every now and then, now that my daughter likes to play it. We still play with open cards.
Ab in die Tonne is a fun family game. It doesn’t offer much for gamers, but as a family game with children and non-gamers, it’s a simple, fun game.
Marrakech works fairly well with both my son and my daughter, and I like it – that’s a winner in my books.
La Boca got most of its plays with the kids. It works pretty well, and the kids usually manage to get decent scores, maybe with little help. The semi co-op aspect of the game works well.
Looping Louie isn’t quite as good a children’s game as I expected, but it’s passable. Mostly my daughter likes to play with it.
Kraken-Alarm is a decent memory game with outstanding components. Not a great game, but the gimmick still works two years after I first got the game, so that’s something.
Erzähl doch mal… is a good game, but I find it a bit heavy to play. I think it’s a very educational game: it teaches story-telling and requires constant attention to what other players are saying. I, however, usually want to play lighter games with the kids.
Bunte Runde is a small favourite of mine, this I always enjoy playing.
La Cucaracha features an electronic cockroach robot which runs on the board. Sold! The bug (a Hexbug Nano toy) is sufficiently random to make the game work. Just skip the die, and the game flows much better. For chaotic fun, this is good.
Games I’ve kept on enjoying
Love Letter was a surprise hit in 2012 and got ten plays in 2013. It still is a favourite filler of mine. I’m waiting for my kids to grow up a bit so I can play this with them. My daughter should like the princess theme. At the moment, keeping cards secret is still too much of a challenge.
The Cityis still far from the 100 plays I expected, but 15 plays is not bad.
Timeline was one of my most-played games, though mostly for 16 games played on one sitting at the circus school. My son likes it, and I’ve done two custom card sets for him (Finnish history and small set for history of games). That’s fun, and I think I’ll do some more sets for him.
Las Vegaswas familiar to me from Lautapelaamaan 2012, where I tried it and then forgot about it. However, I did ask for a review copy when the game was published in Finnish in 2013, and it turned out a wise choice: it’s actually exactly the kind of game I like. Quick, easy, yet clever. I can play this with the children, or with seasoned gamers.
King of Tokyo was never really my cup of tea, but thanks to the new Finnish edition (which I translated), I ended up playing it five times in 2013, and I expect it to see even more play, as it turned out to be a decent game to play with the kids.
The not-so-good, the disappointing and the plain bad
Super Farmer, Rapelli and the Finnish Game of the Year awards were a big disappointment. Only the adult category winner, Qin, is any good. Rapelli is barely a game, even though it looks nice. Super Farmer would’ve been a decent children’s game winner, but I’m expecting more from family games. This was a horrible game, die-rolling with awful, frustrating elements added.
Nations was a bit of disappointment. I was expecting a game that would fix the things that were wrong in Through the Ages, but instead I got the same problems in a different box.
Fives and dimes
Last year I had a slightly longer list, thanks to a wider variety of children’s games, I think. I’m not at all unhappy with this list, though.
Das kleine Gespenst (37)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game (27)
Fleeting Foxes (22)
Ghost Blitz (19)
The City (15)
Gulo Gulo (14)
Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (13)
Richard Scarry’s Busytown: Eye Found It! (12)
Machi Koro (11)
Animal Upon Animal (11)
Trans Europa+ (10)
Da ist der Wurm drin (10)
Love Letter (10)
Die kleinen Drachenritter (9)
Ab in die Tonne (8)
Las Vegas (7)
King of Tokyo (7)
Carcassonne: South Seas (6)
Bunte Runde (6)
Erzählt doch mal… (6)
La Boca (6)
Looping Louie (6)
Battle Line (5)
New York Central (5)
La Cucaracha (5)
The Resistance: Avalon (5)
Battle Line (12/13)
San Juan (10/10)
Age of Steam (10/11) *
Attika (9/11) *
Ta Yü (9/11) *
Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (9/12)
Villa Paletti (9/12)
Settlers of Catan Junior (6/6)
Animal Upon Animal (6/6)
Preußische Ostbahn (6/6)
First number is the years I’ve played the game, second is the number of years since the first time I played. So, I first played San Juan ten years ago and have played it every year since that. With Battle Line and Age of Steam I’ve missed a year. I didn’t play games marked with an asterisk this year.
My H-index for this year is 13 (9 last year). My total H-index is 29, two up from last year. 30 is pretty much guaranteed to happen, reaching 31 next year is going to be more tricky.
It’s the season for new games. Here’s a quick run-through of some recent titles.
The long-awaited Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Deck-Building Game arrived, I translated the cards and we just played our first game. Interesting! Different enough from the new games, and the fans of the first game will like this just for the new cards (and there are some pretty hot new cards – try combining the new Gandalf the White ally with Shadowfax and you’ll be raising hell).
If you didn’t like the first game, there’s nothing in the second one to convert you. We (that is me and my son) dig this a lot, though, and I think this’ll replace the first part for a while now – maybe then we’ll start combining sets (for the record we’ve got 27 plays out of the first game so far). Enthusiastic
Qwixx was a complete impulse purchase, but I’ve already played six games. It’s fun. Roll dice, check boxes, and try to score as high as you can. Almost trivial to teach, plays quickly and what’s best, keeps everybody involved. Active player gets more choices than the other players, but everybody can use part of the active players’ roll. Very clever. This’ll become a staple filler, I believe, and I expect this to hit 20+ plays this year, easy. Suggest
I’ve been thinking about mobile web development recently, so building a iPhone-friendly Qwixx scoring app was a good practise. So, if you want to save scoring sheets, you can visit http://www.mikkosaari.fi/qwixx/on your smart phone. You can check boxes and it’ll count score and prevent you from checking boxes you’re not supposed to check.
Ab in die Tonne (Abacus 2013; there are at least two other games with this title) or Roskis is a fun little card-game. Everybody plays a card (1–10) simultaneously. In the ascending order, everybody adds that many items in the garbage. Eventually, the something falls out, and the guilty player takes some minus points. Simple and fun. Maybe a little too simple (and a little too big a box) to succeed as a filler for gamers – my friends weren’t too impressed – but my kids love it, because of the wooden garbage (milk cartons, cans, apples and bottles), and I find playing the game fun, so I’d say it’s a success as a family game. Suggest
La Boca was on few SdJ prediction lists, but failed to make an appearance. It’s a pity, because it’s a pretty good game. Co-operative building with wooden blocks. The trick of the game is that two players build the structure and the card shows what each should see – they don’t see what the other should see, so it requires some coordination, especially if you manage to score a lot as that requires completing the structure in less than a minute. Quite funny, but perhaps more of an activity than a game. I don’t know; I rather enjoyed our game and hope to play more. Suggest
Pharaoh Code is a math puzzle game. Roll three dice (d8, d10, d12) and use at least two numbers to form a simple equation that matches a tile on board, then grab the tile for points. Repeat. Very simple. I enjoyed this, but I know this will not see much play. Getting my friends to play this again will be hard, and I can’t play this with my kids, either, I’d just win. So, tricky.
However, if you happen to be an elementary school math teacher, you probably want to have this for class room activity. It’s good math training (though the kids who are better at arithmetic will just crush the weaker kids). Indifferent in practise, though I would not say no to this game.
The Haunted Clock Tower is an old Heinz Meister game from 1994. The game was recently released in new edition, and there’s a Finnish edition as well. This is a co-operative memory game. Players turn a tile at a time, and the aim is to find three matching tiles. Simple, not much of a game, but a fun activity for the whole family or for the children. Indifferent – I rather play games.
In Bananas you try to get your monkeys off the board. Looks like an abstract, but the monkeys are hidden, so there’s a memory element and in the end it’s pretty much down to luck. Works for kids, but not very interesting for adults. Bit too chaotic for my tastes.Indifferent