How many fking castles does this guy need?
Between Two Castles is, as the name does not make any effort to hide, a mash-up of Between Two Cities and the Mad King Ludwig franchise. The core gameplay comes from Between Two Cities—there are two rounds, and at the start of each round, each player takes a stack of tiles. Draft two tiles, pass to the left, draft two tiles, pass to the left, until only one tile remains, which is discarded. You’re building a castle with each of the people adjacent to you, and your score is the lowest of the two castles you help build, which means you can’t let one of them suck.
The Mad King aspect is how all the tiles go together. There’s no spatial aspect like the original Castles of Mad King Ludwig; instead, you have several types of square tiles which can be placed around the core of your castle, the throne room. Like Castles, each tile has a type, and most tiles have a way to score points that relates to other tiles in the game. The most common adjacency rules are to score for tiles in the eight spaces around a given tile, or for all tiles above a tile, below it, or both. These can relate to the room type itself (utility room, outdoors area, etc), or the second icon on these tiles (swords, a mirror, and so on).
Another similarity to Castles is that you have much more freedom to build your castle however you want. Most rooms have to be built at the ground floor (the level of the throne room) or above, but there are downstairs rooms that can go below. Tiles have to be placed adjacent to other ones. The castle can go as high as you want, but all rooms must be supported by actual room tiles beneath them (you can’t place a tile above an outdoor area). Alternately, you can go as wide as you want—whatever works for your grand architectural plan.
Also like Castles, you get bonuses for fulfilling certain basic requirements. In this case, if you place three of a tile type, you get an associated bonus, and if you place five of one type, you get a specialty room tile that can add substantially to your final score. It takes some getting used to the bonuses; none of them are hard to understand individually, but understanding them well enough to grab them quickly in the flow of the game can be hard.
And if there’s a flaw in this game, the bonuses are it. Between Two Cities is a fantastic game. Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a game I don’t like playing, but which I can’t deny is well-designed—I’m just crap at spatial awareness. Putting together a castle in the Ludwig vein, according to BTC rules, is quite fun on a basic level. But the draft mechanic works best when everybody sorts through the available tiles, picks two, then everyone plays their tiles together and moves on to the next decision. When people get bonuses, new players will often overlook them because they want to move on to building more castle pieces; once everyone’s used to grabbing their bonuses, then the game either slows a bit while decisions are made (some of the bonuses require players choose from tiles or bonus cards), or some people move on with their next decision and are left to wait while the bonus earners catch up.
I didn’t have a chance to play this with a group who was experienced enough to blow through the bonus-grabbing process, so it’s theoretically possible the game plays very well once everyone is on point. Thing is, BTC is a fairly casual game, and it’s unlikely this game (especially with a bigger group) is only going to have experienced players in it. The rhythm of Between Two Cities that this idea relies on gets thrown off by the Mad King Ludwig aspects. Thus, while the idea is sound and the baseline game is pretty good, it winds up being about 90% as good as what you’d hope to get when putting two games of this quality together.
Still, when you’re working at this level, 90% is solid. If you liked both of the component games, you’ll probably like this. If you liked one and didn’t play the other, it’s worth trying. If… look, just play the game if you get the chance.
(4.1 / 5)
YOU ARE A GOD. The god of a pyramid-shaped universe. Make it a properly blasted hellscape.
Orbis is a game about managing two types of resources: your territory and your worshipers. Your goal, as is the goal of every reasonable god, is to accrue the most victory points (little known fact: the concept of victory points was first alluded to in the Book of Moses). By the end of the game, you’ll have chosen fourteen land tiles and one tile which solidifies your deific identity; this will create a pyramid, with yourself at the top, that is the finest universe in the cosmos, unless you lose.
Every round, you pick one tile from a 3×3 grid to add to your universe. Each of these hexagonal tiles has a color. You put a worshiper cube of the appropriate color on each of the adjacent tiles, then place the tile in your universe. And from this simple baseline, things get interesting (in the legitimate way, not the “I don’t have any other word to describe this” way) very quickly.
When you take a tile, you take under your wing all the worshiper cubes on that tile. These cubes are used for various purposes—at first, you might use them to pay for effects on the tiles you take, but relatively quickly you’ll need to start discarding certain sets of worshipers to take tiles off the grid. Tiles are placed according to a few particular rules. First, after you place one tile, all others must touch at least one tile already in your universe. Second, to place a tile on a level above the bottom row, there must be two tiles below it (so it makes the pyramid). Third, if a tile is placed above the bottom level, it must match the color of one of the tiles below it.
Once your on to your third or fourth tile, you already have some major decisions to make. Do I take the tile with more worshipers or that’s worth more points? You can only have a max of ten worshipers, but you can trade three of one color to get one of another, so you rarely have to discard any. Do I take the tile that’s more useful but which puts yet another worshiper on a different tile that I know one of my opponents is likely to take? Just how do I build my universe? (Something that doesn’t become obvious until you’re well into your first game is how the pyramid structure limits the types of lands you’re able to make maximum use of, since you have to string colors up the chain rather than place them wherever you want.)
On one turn during the game, you have to pick the god you want to be. Each of them potentially offers bonus points of you meet certain requirements. This choice is less impactful than it seems like it should be, as you will frequently be the only person able to make good use of a certain god. In many cases, you’ll wait until the end or take it on a turn when there are no tiles you want. However, in some cases—especially ones where a god is out that offers a bonus for having the most of a certain tile type, and you and an opponent are both going hard after that type—this does become a serious matter.
Now, what happens if you can’t pay the worshipers for a tile? Then you turn it into wilderness, which fits into a slot and is worth -1 at the end of the game. That sucks… except the wilderness counts as all colors. This means that it’s not just a penalty for poor planning—you can, and often should, strategically place wilderness in your universe so you can take a tile that doesn’t match the rows that come before. It’s another angle for building your realm that takes a bit of cleverness to use well.
All in all, Orbis is fairly light and easy to understand, but it’s a game that is going to leave people mulling over most of their moves. Planning is paramount, and for this reason an experienced player is going to have a major advantage over new ones, more so than is the case in most light games. But that just means you need to play it again. There are worse fates than a second go at Orbis.
(4.1 / 5)
Dr. Eureka is a manual dexterity game designed to keep kids entertained, if the box art wasn’t enough of a clue. The BGG community is wise in this case; the game is listed as being for ages eight and up, but the community vote is for age five and up, and they’re probably right. If you like watching small children fumble objects all over the floor so you can feel more accomplished in life, they’re definitely right.
You start with three test tubes, each holding three balls of a single color—red, purple, or green. A card is flipped over with a way of sorting the balls in the test tubes. There may be any number of balls in a given tube (up to the five they can hold); some cards have an empty tube on them. Your job is to figure out the most effective way to move the balls from tube to tube until they match the pattern on the card. The catch is that you have to tip one tube into another to move the balls. You can’t move them with your hands. And if you drop a ball, you’re out of the round. First person to complete the pattern wins the round, takes the card, and the first to five cards wins.
That’s the whole game. Is it fun? Yeah. It’s not going to amuse adults for more than a couple playthroughs against each other. Kids might get a kick out of it if they’re at a level of coordination where this is a challenge, but a doable challenge. (Actually, by that standard, a lot of adults might like it too.) It’s something you want to find for cheap and stick on a shelf if you know you have to deal with kids that like to constantly do things with their hands.
(3.3 / 5)
Can you read your friends’ minds?!
No. Stop trying. And if you do want to try, find another way.
This is what you do in The Mind: Everyone has a hand of cards equal to the level of the game. One person plays a card. Then another. Do that until everyone’s hands are empty. The goal is to play the cards, numbered 1 through 99, in numerical order while hardcore pokerfacing everybody at the table. You cannot speak, you cannot make expressions that potentially give away any information about your hand, nothing. (Of course, that’s necessary, since clues would make this game idiotically simple.)
Your group starts with a certain number of lives and throwing stars. As you pass through the levels, more of these become available. Lives are lost if someone plays a card and another player has a lower card in hand; throwing stars are used to allow everyone to discard one card from their hands. Run out of lives, you lose. Get to the end with any lives left, you win.
If you’re familiar with The Game, this is extremely similar, just with slight tweaks to make it more engaging. Its main advantage over The Game is this: The Game requires you to go through the whole deck, which means a bad shuffle can make it extremely difficult to finish. The Mind never has you deal out more than about one-third of the deck, so while you certainly can end up with a bunch of cards with similar values spread among the players, it’s less of a problem.
Problem is, they’re just tweaks, and it’s not much more engaging. The instructions have a bit that say “Don’t read until you’ve finished a game”, at which point they say this is a game about timing—the longer you wait to play a card, the farther away from the current card you probably are, so the players need to get a sense for how long each other will wait before playing a card X number away from the current one. They’re not lying; that’s what this game is, to the point that’s basically all this game is.
This is the kind of game that might have value with kids who need to learn teamwork, especially if you need them to shut up for five minutes. And there will always be people who enjoy this specific brand of mental cooperation. But as a game, it’s just.. not much of one.
(3 / 5)
Remember, fireworks are scary for pets! Keep your doors and windows well shut and locked so they don’t run away.
Fireworks is a game about—wait for it—building the most aesthetically pleasing set of fireworks. It’s Japanese, which should explain why it’s called Fireworks and not “Glowy Sky Booms” or “Sparkly Wonder Stars” or “Boom Goes the Glittery Dynamite”. You take tiles with multiple partial fireworks on them and play them to set up certain artistic combinations (big fireworks, kaleidoscopes, saturns, and small flowers), along with special extra-artsy tiles, to score points and win the game. It’s about as simple a concept as you can find.
But the game gets complicated by a few aspects. One is the types of fireworks. You start with the core of two big fireworks. The game suggests these start with at least two spaces between them, and it’s a good idea; if they’re any closer, you won’t have space to pop off all the extra fireworks you need around them to finish them. Because the board has twenty-five spaces on it, and the big fireworks will fill seven when completed, it does an effective job of making you think about where you’re going to put everything.
Furthermore, although the kaleidoscopes and saturns are each made from putting two firework halves together, you have to pay attention; some have tails and some don’t, which are used for kaleidoscopes and saturns, respectively. The two also score differently—kaleidoscopes are better if you have different colors on each side, while saturns are better if they match. (Given the number of colors, this generally makes kaleidoscopes easier to finish.)
However, balancing out the difficulty in putting good fireworks together is the fact you can rearrange your board every time you place new tiles. You’re not just mashing in each piece the best you can, having to plan for any number of possibilities (which would be impossible). If you can find a way to use your tiles more effectively, you can move them to take advantage of that. But it’s harder than it sounds. Envisioning the best way to move twenty-plus tiles around at the end of the game is very hard, at least at first.
So, they give you a basic concept, complicate how you work with that concept to make it harder, introduce another aspect to make it easier, but then add a challenge to that aspect. On top of that, you don’t just roll a die to decide how many tiles you take; you dump that die out of a fireworks tube from a couple feet over the board, only choosing from the tiles that are face up, which is awesome. And if you don’t flip any, you roll again with an action card, which usually makes you do some contortions with a friend to get the die out of the tube (and the friend gets to take tiles as well). It’s a mix of small party game, visual acuity tester, and strategic thinking.
Sounds great! And it is good. The problem is… that I can’t tell you what the problem is. It doesn’t feel like they’re trying to do too many things, because each aspect of the game is pretty cool. It may be that the mix of things don’t necessarily create something more than the sum of its parts. But for whatever reason, we finish playing, shrug, and say, “Yeah, that was pretty good.” And we’re not dying to play again.
The issues with Fireworks are small, and what you like or dislike may easily not be what I like or dislike. It just doesn’t quite get over that hump of being a game that entrances you.
(3.8 / 5)