The Great Heartland Hauling Co.—A Double-Take Review

Heartland"Breaker, breaker one-nine, you got a county mounty comin' up on your back door. You might want to back off the hammer." "No can do. I've gotta get these pink cubes pigs up to Jericho."

The Great Heartland Hauling Co. is a "cubes and cards game" for 2 to 4 players from Dice Hate Me games, and designer Jason Kotarski. You can read an interview we did with Jason right here.


  • 46 Freight Bill cards (15 each of soy beans and corn, and 8 each of cattle and pig)
  • 19 Fuel cards (10 Move 1, 6 Move 2, and 3 Move 3)
  • 12 double-sided Location cards
  • 1 Distribution Center card
  • 8 Score/Cargo cards
  • 4 wooden trucks in the player colors
  • 60 wooden Cargo Crate cubes (15 of each of the four colors)
  • 4 Reference/Variant cards
  • [My Kickstarted copy also came with a Badlands Expansion, a Truck Stop "inspansion", and pieces for a 5th player. I have no idea if these come with all copies of the game or not.]


First you'll randomly set up the board, depending on the number of players. The Distribution Center card is always in the middle, and that's where the trucks start. Each Location card has a "native good," and you'll place five cubes of that good on each card. You'll shuffle the Fuel and Freight Bill cards together, deal five to each player, and the place the top three cards of the draw pile next to the draw pile a la Ticket To Ride.

HeartlandboardThere are 3 Phases: Move / Take an action / and Refuel

So you have to move every turn; you can do this in one of two ways. First, you can discard fuel cards and move the exact number on the cards. You can add more than one card together, but you can never move more than three spaces on a turn. The second way to move is to pay $1 for each space you move—again, up to three spaces. If you're out of Fuel cards and money, you move to the Distribution Center card, discard as many cards as you want, and then draw up to five cards again in the Refuel phase.

There are a few rules that govern moving:

  • You can only use either Fuel cards or cash—not both.
  • You can only move orthogonally.
  • You can't backtrack to spaces you already passed in that turn.
  • You can move through a space with another truck, but can never stop on a space with another truck.
  • You can't stop on the Distribution Center—unless you're out of cards and dough, as I said before.

Phase 2 is where you take actions; you have to Load, Unload, or Discard. To Load, you discard Freight Bill cards and load the matching good onto your truck—which holds up to 8 goods of any combination. If the good is a native good for that card, you can load one good for each card you discard. If it's not a native good, it costs two Freight Bill cards for each good you load. If you choose to unload, you discard one Freight Bill card for each good, unload it on a card that has demand for that good, and get cash for each good. You can only Load or Unload one type of good on each turn.

FREQUENTLY FORGOTTEN RULE: A Location card can only hold eight goods cubes at any one time.


Finally, you can take the Discard action. You discard as many cards as you want, and then pay $1.

After you've taken an action comes the Refuel phase. You draw from the supply until you have five cards again—you can choose from the faceup cards, or take your chances with the facedown draw pile.

When a player reaches a certain money level ($30 in a 4-player game, $40 in a 3-player game, and $50 in a 2-player game), every other player gets one last turn and the game ends. If any players still have goods cubes in their truck, they lose money (-$1 for soy beans and corn, and -$2 for each cattle or pig). Most cash wins—with ties won by the player with the fewest cubes left in his or her trailer.

My copy came with some fun variants:

First, each of the Location cards is double-sided. The regular side has the location, a native good, and then two other goods the Location "demands." If you flip to the advanced side, the cards have some obstacles/ For instance, a Road Closed symbol means you can't move into or out of the location from that direction. The Toll Road forces players to pay $1 to move through it. And the Weigh Station forces players to pay $1 for each cargo cube above four in their trailers. These are interesting—though I think the Weigh Station is kinda harsh. It's already risky to stockpile goods, but to get charged for them seems rough.

The Badlands expansion is for a five-player game—you place the two cards on the furthest reaches of the board. There are no native goods on these, but they pay more for the goods they demand. We haven't played with this one yet, but it seems fairly straightforward.

Finally, there's the Truck Stop inspansion, which are special power cards you can purchase and use in the game. They include powers such as making one diagonal move per turn, paying $1 to not move on your turn (which is more useful than it sounds), and the ability to unload multiple goods types on one turn. They're interesting and fun; the only one that doesn't seem to fit is the Ham Radio, which lets you trade goods with a adjacent player. It doesn't really fit the rest of the game at all, and we'll likely never play with that particular card. (Also, I'd be fine if the word "inspansion" never catches on...)


GoofingYouth Group Game? Under the Right Circumstances! It won't accommodate a crowd, but if you've only got a few, it's light enough to play with nongamer teens.

Family Game? Definitely! My 8-year-old played this a couple of times with open cards, but he'll soon be ready for playing the "real" game—cutthroat style!

Gamer’s Game? Yes! It's a meaty, longish filler—and I like those kind of games a lot. Groundbreaking? No. Fun? Yes!

The Verdict

Firestone—Dice Hate Me have packed a ton of game into this tiny package. There's a full game, and three variants/expansions in a perfectly sized box; I love that.

Jeremiah— about bang for your buck! In an industry that is full of expansions, and re-releases, and add-ons, etc., it's awesome to get a great bunch of stuff packed in the box!

Firestone—My youngest (5) is too young for this right now, but he does love moving the trucks and drawing cards for us. My oldest really liked it; in fact, he said, "This game is so fun!" One thing the Truck Stop expansion is great for is evening out his game. I randomly gave him one of the powers cards to start with, and that seemed to settle any disparity in playing level. It won't be long before he won't need that, though.

SmilingJeremiah—I love playing games like this with my kids, because they also just blurt out their praise or disdain for the game. My youngest (4) is far too young to play so he often "helps daddy," but my oldest loves it. In the short time we've had the game it's made its way to the table several times with my boys already. And that's not counting the times I've played with my gamer friends.

Jeremiah—The components are really of a high quality as well. I LOVE the truck meeples. My own personal pet peeve, is that they packed SO much into, I can't sleeve the cards and still fit them all into the box. Bummer.

Firestone—The truckles, truckeeples, big-rig-eeples, whatever are awesome. I agree about the sleeves. It seems like this will show wear fairly quickly—since the entire game is cards—but there's just not room in the box. :( Also, this could have used 100% more Pork Chop Express in it...

Firestone—The game group thought this was pretty good. Fillers are always welcome, and this is one of the better ones.

Jeremiah—Meaty fillers are even more welcome. There's something to be said for a game that moves quickly, and packs lots of gameplay, strategy, and decisions into a pretty compact amount of time.

Firestone—One thing I like is that this isn't another game about trading goods in the long-ago Mediterranean. Trucking is a rarely used and unique theme, and it fits perfectly.

Jeremiah—I believe the discussion we had was something to the effect of "I really like this game, but the theme isn't what I would have chosen. Maybe if we were pirates, or sailors, sailing to different ports to trade goods..." The theme works well for the game, but as a matter of taste it wasn't up my alley.

Firestone—Since the board changes every game, each game will be slightly different. And if you play with the Truck Stop, those are randomized and only a few used. So there's plenty of replayability.

Jeremiah—This speaks again to the value of picking up a copy of the game. Lots of variants. Here's a thought, too: Use some locations with the advanced side, and some with the normal side up. You've just doubled your variance in the board setup!

Firestone Final Thoughts—This game is just fun. I can play with gamers, family, and nongamers—and that's awfully rare these days. The box size, price-point, and amount of fun crammed in make this a great deal. I recommend it heartily!

Jeremiah Final Thoughts—Completely agree, it's super easy to learn for all skill levels, and tons of fun. The game moves really well, too; there are constantly decisions to make, but none that bog down the pace. The Great Heartland Hauling Co. gives enormous bang for your buck!

Thanks so much for reading!

Gears of Whoa!—A Tzolk'in Review

Mayancover By Firestone

One of the most buzzed-about games of the last year was a little game called Tzolk'in. But it seemed like the interest might be simply because of the cool gears that cover most of the board. Well I've played it now, and I can assure you, there's a solid game to go with those cool gears.

The game is set in Central America during the time of the Mayans, and you're trying to earn the most VPs through careful placement of your workers. There's a large, ornate gear in the middle, and five smaller gears around that one. The large one acts as the game's "timer" It will turn once around, and then the game ends, while the smaller ones will turn many times over the course of that large gear's one turn. Science! There are also a few tracks—including a tech tree and three temple tracks. And there are spaces for buildings and monuments, which you'll buy with resources. The game crams a remarkable amount of information onto one board without becoming Gearsoverwhelming.

Turns are "simple": You will either place one or more workers onto the board, or you will take one or more workers off the board.

Each of the gears has spaces for the workers to sit on, and each gear has different actions around them. You have to place your worker on the lowest available space on each wheel, and possibly pay to do that. The spaces start at zero corn (the game's currency), and go up from there. So you have to pay corn to place your worker (unless it's on the lowest space, which is free), but you also have to pay for each worker you place beyond the first one each turn. And the prices ramp up for each worker, so you always have to carefully consider whether you can afford to place workers.

At the end of each turn, you turn the big gear, which turns the little gears, which move the workers on those gears. So each turn a worker will move ahead and be in front of a new action space. The spaces get better the further along the gear you go, but because you have to either place workers or take them off, it can be a tricky thing to get workers to ride that gear for a while.


When you decide to take a worker off a gear, he gets to do the action that's in front of him when you take him off. (If you decide you actually want to do an action further back on the gear—because something on the board changed, or you timed the taking off/putting on poorly, or whatever—you can, but you have to pay one corn for each space behind you that action happens to be.) One of the gears has actions that let you take corn or wood. One lets you get building resources, such as wood, gold, stone, or crystal skulls. The third gear has actions that let you advance the tech tree, build Buildings, and build Monuments. The fourth gear lets you do things such as pay corn to advance on the Temple track, get another worker to use in the game, and build a Building using corn rather than resources. The last couple of spaces on every gear allow you to take a earlier action on the gear, but without having to play the extra corn. The fifth gear is a little different, in that those spaces give you straight VPs and let you advance on the Temple track. The further on the wheel, the more VPs, but each space costs one crystal skull, so once someone has claimed a space with their skull, no one else can use that one.


As if all of that weren't enough, I still have way more stuff to explain!

There's a space where you can put a worker down to claim the first player marker. Each turn where no one does that, you put corn on the wheel. So as the corn adds up turn over turn, there's incentive for other people to grab that first player space.

So there are three Temple tracks. Since you're Mayans, and Mayans believed in many gods, you'll be trying to win the favor of the gods and advance on these tracks. It's not like there's a Sacrifice A Villager space—it's completely abstracted. You take an action on one of the wheels, and move your marker up the ziggurat. That gets you more VPs during scoring, and a couple of spaces give you resources, too. There is a mechanism in the game where you can beg for corn if you can't pay for something, but this "angers the gods"—which simply means you have to move down one of the tracks. It's not the focus of the game, and there's nothing that made me feel I was being asked to worship anything—it's just one of the game's mechanisms given a thematic coat of paint.

The tech trees let you do things such as gather extra corn when you take the Gather Corn action; get extra wood, stone, or gold when you gather that resource, or get resources when you build a Building—plus a few others. The tech trees are cool, but as with so many great games, you can't do everything, so you have to choose wisely, and hope your choices are better than your opponents' choices.

Image from BGG user henk.rolleman

Finally, there are two tracks on the bottom of the board. One holds Buildings; at any time there will be six of them on the board. They let you do things, such as move up on a tech tree, or move up on Temple tracks, or spend less to feed your workers at the end of each turn. There are two batches of Buildings; you use the first ones in the first half, and switch to the second batch for the second half—and the second batch has better Buildings. Another reason to build Buildings is that some of the Monuments will give you VPs for having certain-colored Buildings.

The game comes with a number of Monuments, and each game you'll use exactly six of them. Those—unlike Buildings—won't be refilled. They give you bonuses and VPs at the end of the game, but you have to build them using resources, just like a Building.

The game is divided into four quarters, and at each quarter you'll have to feed your workers—two corn each unless you've built a farm Building. Unlike Stone Age, starving your people here is a BAD IDEA. Also depending on the quarter, you might score some of the Temples, or get some resources. After the last quarter, you count up VPs, add in bonuses from the board or from Monuments, do a couple of other fiddly things, and whoever has the most VPs, wins!

Whew! Well that's it. As you can see, there is a LOT going on. Your first game will probably take you a while, because even though you can only take off or put on workers, there is a lot to think about. This game is all about timing. You'll constantly be trying to figure out whether putting these guys down this turn will allow you to take that action later to get this resource to later turn into that Building provided your dude on that gear can ride far enough along to get to the Building action. This is NOT a light game...

Image from BGG user Goodsound

One the great things about the game is that there are many things that change the experience from game to game. The Monuments are different each game, for one. Another thing is the starting resources. The game comes with tiles that have various bonuses on them, such as a free movement up one of the tech tracks, or another worker to start the game with, or a free skull, or moving up the Temple tracks. You get four tiles, and you choose two of them to start the game with. That will often determine what route you take (at least at the start). Your experience from game to game should be quite different. And because there are so many viable routes to victory, you'll feel complete freedom to explore a different strategy from game to game.

You'll need to determine if the Temple tracks are enough to keep you away from the game. Again, it's completely abstracted, but there is talk of "pleasing the gods" to move up, or "displeasing the gods" and having to move down. You're not sacrificing people to these gods, or worshiping them in any way. But we'd understand if that makes you uncomfortable.

This is one of the best games I've played in the past year. I can't wait to try out some new tactics and strategies—and I REALLY can't wait to get my grubby hands on a copy of the game, and paint those sweet gears. If you like deep games, and/or worker-placement games, check out Tzolk'in. It's way more that a gimmick.

Mayfair's Catan Junior—A Double-Take Review

catanjrWell it's probably not a surprise to you that there were more than a few games found under the Christmas trees in our homes. We both ended up adding a copy of Mayfair's Catan Junior to our growing collection of kids/family games, so we thought there's no better time to post our thoughts in yet another Double-Take Review. Let's be honest: If you're a gamer, you probably have friends who tell you how much they LOVE Settlers of Catan. Catan is to board gaming what Dark Side of the Moon is to Pink Floyd. Or Kleenex is to facial tissue. Or "Particle Man" is to They Might Be Giants. Or Coke is to Cola. Or, get my point. Anyone who has had a close encounter with the geek level of gaming has played Settlers of Catan. It's not a bad thing; Catan has probably done more for board gaming than any other title since (gah!) Monopoly. So we won't go into much detail about the original version of the game; if you want to read about it, there are about seven million reviews, tutorials, and commentaries on the game scattered throughout the Internet.

Playing Catan Jr.Catan Junior isn't just a simplifying of the already massive hit title. The rules are somewhat streamlined, for sure, but there is also a re-theming to the game. Instead of building settlements, cities and roads, players are now swashbuckling pirates, building pirate lairs (instead of settlements and cities), and pirate ships (instead of roads). The hexes are now represented by individual islands. You start with two lairs and one ship, and you can only build lairs next to ships, and ships next to lairs. The point of the game is to be the first to build seven lairs.

The trading has been changed to be a little more kid friendly. There is a marketplace on one end of the board, and one of each of the five resources (now Goats, Wood, Gold, Molasses, and Cutlasses) are placed at a booth in the marketplace. Players can trade 1:1 with those resources (only once per turn), or 2:1 for anything not in the marketplace—or for an advanced variant, you ditch the marketplace and trade with other players. And you can also purchase Coco Cards, which feature Coco the parrot on the back. These give you various free goods, or allow you a free move of the Ghost Pirate Captain (which we'll explain in a second), and one that allows you to build a lair or a ship for free! In addition to the great stuff you get, having the most Coco cards will allow you to build a lair on Spooky Island (which is the Desert in this retheme), putting you one closer to the seven lairs you need.

The thief has been replaced by the Ghost Pirate Captain (who starts on Spooky Island), and rolling a 6 (in this game there's a single d6) allows players to move the Ghost Captain to an island and take two resources of the type that matches the hex he was placed on. And like the thief he stops production from that hex until he's moved again.

Your turn consists of:

  • Roll to produce goods on islands
  • Trade
  • Build

And that's it. They move along quickly, so there's little downtime.

Firestone—The components are great. The resources are big and chunky and perfect for my kids' little hands to grab. The ships and lairs are small, but they do the job. It's very colorful, and the pirate theme is a hit with kids.

Jeremiah—Yeah, I totally agree; we love the resource tokens (although my wife got a little flustered because the cutlasses were tough to stack), I suppose I would have preferred wooden ships and lairs—the plastic ones seem a little fragile to me. But I will say they have survived at least four plays thus far, so they are surprisingly durable. The retheme is great, although I've taken to calling the Ghost Pirate Caption the Dread Pirate Roberts, but we'll just call that a house rule for now...

Firestone—I've played three games: a 2-player, a 3-player, and a 4-player, and it seems to scale well, though people were getting cut off right and left in our 4-player game. And by people, I mean me.

Jeremiah—I actually haven't played a 2-player game yet, because every time we pull it out both of my boys jump at the chance to play it. So most of my plays have been 3-player, and once the boys talked mommy into playing, so we played 4-player. With 4 it does get a little crowded, but I agree: It's a short game, and it's actually about perfect in play time, so before it gets too cut-throat it's over.

Firestone—One downside I've seen in my three games is that it seems practically impossible to come back once someone gets ahead of you. And if they're building lairs that are cutting you off, it's just that much harder to come back. But since it's short, I can live with this one complaint about it. Oddly, in my house, my 8-year-old isn't all that excited about playing this—he'll play, but it's not his first choice. I'm not sure if that's because he's used to playing "deeper" games with me and this one seems too simple, or what. I do know that my almost-5-year-old LOVES this one. He needs some help with decisions and strategies and the whys and wherefores, but he has a blast playing. He's cuckoo for Coco.

Jeremiah—Both my 4- and 6-year-olds are all about this game. I do have to help the youngest one pretty often. The strategy to buy CoCo cards seems to be the choice of youngsters everywhere! They've figured out the value of getting a free lair on Spooky Island and have exploited it very well. In fact, both of my sons have figured this out, and it somehow works, because most of the time they pull out the win.

Firestone—This is a great, great family game. It's ideal for introducing kids to Euros, and the process of creating engines where you get this, to turn into that, to get you VPs. And one of the best things is that you won't feel as though you have to dumb down your play—the kids have just as much chance to win as you—but the game is still interesting for adults. Am I going to bring this to game night with the fellas? Of course not. But it's a game for kids, and it's very good at it.

Jeremiah—Yeah, we both pretty much agree on this one, the rules and theme are super accessible for kids. I will say that I "renamed" the Ghost Pirate Captain because my oldest son lately has been super tweaky about anything remotely scary. (Like when his younger brother impersonates zombie carrots... Yes, zombie carrots weird him out.) Spooky Island he's okay with. But I felt like I needed to hold back on the ost-ghay irate-pay. The game is close enough to the original that it also holds my interest and isn't total kids-game fodder. And as I said, it's short enough to hold the attention of my 4-year old!

Firestone Final Rating—As a game for adults, it's maybe a 6 or 7—it's fine, but I don't much like that it uses dice to control if people don't roll your number, yer outta luck. BUT, as a kids game I give it a 10. It's the perfect game to introduce kids to Euro-game concepts.

Jeremiah Final Rating—Completely agree, I'd say a solid 7 for adults playing with kids, the board is laid out well enough that you shouldn't get hosed for resources even though you're relying on the dice. And yeah score it a 10 for kids: awesome gateway into euro style games, great theme, perfect rules scaling of a classic game, and solid re-playability.

Get Catan: Junior on Amazon here!

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Review: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

By Firestone I love Star Wars. I really, really love Star Wars. Of course there are problems, and plot holes, and inconsistencies, and those awful, terrible Episodes I, II, and III. But no film/franchise/toy line is so firmly entrenched in my memories of childhood.

So, of course, I was giddy when I heard they were making a miniatures game based on my beloved franchise.

I played a friend's copy—he'd picked up two copies of everything. At this point that includes the base game, which includes two tie fighters and one x-wing, and the Wave 1 expansions, which include another tie fighter and x-wing fighter (with new pilots and powers), a tie advanced, and a y-wing. The minis are terrific hand-painted plastic. They are awfully fragile, and at the prices these fetch, I admit I'm hesitant for my 4-year-old to be anywhere near this thing.

The gameplay is superficially similar to the Wings of War game—but with some significant differences that ensure this is no knockoff. First, each person build a squad using points. 100 points seems to be the norm, and you get there by choosing various ships, and then adding pilots (such as Wedge Antilles and Darth Vader), and then adding upgrades (such as proton torpedoes). Each one of these things costs a different number of points; you add them all up to get to your squad total. Here's where I come up against my first problem with the game: You'll need more than the base game to make a decent game—either more base games or a bunch of expansion pieces. I get that this is Fantasy Flight's business model, but someone opening up just the base game on Christmas morning might be disappointed with how small their game will be.

Game play is straightforward: Each type of ship has a unique set of maneuvers it can make, and has a unique movement dial that lets you set its next move and then set it facedown until everyone has made their movement selection. Then in turn order people reveal their dial and move. There are templates that you place in front of the mini's base, and then you simply move the ship to the end of the template. It's easy and unambiguous.

Then each person can choose an Action from the choices on their various pilot and upgrade cards; these might include focusing on fighting, or evading a shot that comes at you. Then each ship determines whether there's a target in their firing arc and attacks if possible. Attacks are resolved using dice, with various abilities affecting the attack or defense dice. The various ships have different defenses: Tie fighters have great maneuverability, but have no shields, while X-wings have shields but have fewer maneuvers available to them.

That's a basic overview of the game.

The components are great. The minis are cool, the cards are nice and clear, and the numerous tokens are thick. I'm concerned about the movement dials rubbing away over time, but we'll see.

The complexity is low. My 8-year-old might need a little help with the smaller details and fine strategy, but I think he'd hold his own...

There's a fair amount of luck in this—in fact, more than I'm generally comfortable with. It gets some grace because of the theme, and because I know my kids will love this game, regardless of luck. The playing time is short—games should take no more than 30-45 minutes. And while the game says it's for 2 players, we've played team games of 4 people (two on each side), and it worked great. Of course, for that size game you'll need some expansions.

Speaking of expansions, Wave 2 is scheduled for February. And it includes two larger models, one of Boba Fett's Slave 1, and one of the Millenium Falcon. I can't wait!

My biggest complaint is how much money this will cost me over time. I understand that I can choose to not buy the expansions, but if you think that's an option, you obviously don't know me very well! :)

Bottom line: If you have kids who love Star Wars—or if you love Star Wars and can get over the randomness and the price—then this is a great game to consider. It'll tide me over until Star Wars The Card Game comes out!

Thanks for reading!

We Review Plato 3000

By Firestone I like being surprised by a game—well...pleasantly surprised, anyway. I opened up my recently arrived, Kickstarted copy of Glory To Rome and found a small card game that I’d completely forgotten was a stretch goal. It’s called Plato 3000, and it’s basically rummy with special powers.

The game comes with a 54-card deck of illustrated cards. The artwork is pretty cool; it’s kind of an apocalyptic steampunky series of machines in different kinds and colors. There’s also a rules reminder card—it would have been nice if there’d been more than one, though.

You shuffle the cards, deal 10 to each player, and then place the remaining cards on a Draw deck. There are two discards on either side of the Draw pile—a Scrap discard and a Research discard. A turn consists of drawing a card—either blindly off the top of the Draw deck, or off the top of either discard pile. If you draw off the Draw pile, you draw two and keep one—discarding the other to the top of the Research discard. Then you can play one Theory card (which all have special things they let you do), lay down one meld of three or more Job cards, and/or lay off on melds your opponent has down. Then you discard a card to the Scrap pile.

The various colors have special powers once they’re down in front of you as a meld. The Priest lets you lay down a meld when you have only two of a color. The Farmer lets you keep both cards when you draw off the top at the beginning of the turn. And the Soldier lets you attack your opponent’s melds and remove cards from them.

Just as in Rummy, once someone discards his or her last card, the hand is over. Cards in front are positive points, and cards in your hand are negative points. There are a few other scoring cases, but that’s basically it: rummy with special powers. You continue playing until someone reaches 100 points, which seems to be four or five hands. There are rules for team play, but I haven't tried that yet.

It’s a fun little game! Easy to teach, portable, based on a well-known game, and nongamer-friendly.

I guess the best endorsement I can give is this: I got my copy for free, but even if I hadn’t, I would still buy a copy.

Check back soon for our review of Glory To Rome, and thanks for reading!

Tooth & Nail: Factions

By Firestone A while back I wrote about my Love/Hate relationship with Kickstarter, and in that article I mentioned a project I was going to back on faith. Well Tooth & Nail: Factions is that game. Was it worth my backing dollars?

Well you’ll just have to read and find out…

The game is put out by Small Box Games, so it comes in a…small box. I like the size a lot, but there’s not a lot of room for expansions—if they make any. (Though it should be noted my copy is sleeved.) It plays 2-4 players, but based on the different rules for 3 and 4 players, it seems like it would just be way better with only 2—and I've only played 2-player so far...

So the game comes with ~200 glossy cards. They’re decent quality, though I would suggest sleeving them. The game is all cards, so you’re moving, turning, playing, holding, and shuffling them a lot. It’s not a deck-builder, so you won’t be handling them as much as you would in, say, Dominion, but still…

Those cards are divided into six Factions, each of which is designed to feel and play differently than the others, and Action Cards. Each Faction has five copies of six different troops. The game also comes with six oversized Faction cards that spell out each Faction’s unique in-game ability. My Kickstarted copy also came with six alternate Faction cards for more variety, and a Dogs of War variant that I have yet to try out.

I really like the artwork on the cards. It’s not super sharp, like some of the CCGs Fantasy Flight puts out (which I also like, btw). But this feels more raw and organic and earthy.

You’re trying to cause your opponent to run through his or her deck before you do: First person out of cards in their draw pile loses. So cards are life points, but they’re also your weapons to defeat your enemy.

The play area is divided into the War Zone and the Command Zone; when you play a troop card, you’ll play it down to one of those sections. The War Zone allows you to directly attack your opponent’s deck (but you ignore the special text on the troop card), or the Command Zone, where you don’t directly attack, but you will end up using the special text to affect things. The other important thing about the Command Zone is that at the beginning of your turn you’re able to draw one card for each card you have in your Command Zone.

You can either draw directly from your stack of cards, or you can draw an Action Card—a set of cards that are available to each player on his or her turn. You’ll need to use Action Cards to play cards down to the table, and to initiate an attack from the War Zone. One of my favorite aspects of the game is that the beginning of each turn forces you to make a tough decision about which type of cards you draw for that turn.

You don’t have to play an Action Card to activate a card in your Command Zone, but you have to discard the card after activation unless you have a copy of that exact card in your hand that you can discard. Sometimes losing that card is still a good choice; sometimes it isn’t… More tough choices.

The games last 15-30 minutes, and because of the variety of Factions (and 30 possible combinations of matchups), it’s easy to say, “Let’s play another quick game.”

Yes, there’s some luck of the draw, but I think each turn is more an exercise in playing what you have in the best way, rather than hoping you draw that one awesome card that’s in your deck. <cough-Magic-cough>

The Factions don’t feel completely different, but there’s definitely a different feel to each. The Enrodentia (rats) are weak, but have swarmish abilities. The Red Claws (dinosaurs) can take a beating (by pulling cards from their discard pile back into their draw deck). The Ostra Vultura (steampunk vultures!) mess with their opponent’s hand by forcing them to ditch cards, or by pulling cards from the opponent into the Vultura’s draw pile.

My one complaint is that sometimes the matchups seem to favor one side a bit. In one game my Pride Faction’s ability forced my opponent to remove his discards from the game, but he was playing the Vultura, and they don’t generally resurrect cards from their discard pile, so it didn’t really affect him. Meanwhile, his ability forced me to randomly discard a card from my hand. THAT WAS MUCH MORE USEFUL. But it could be that more experience will force me to be creative about what strengths I do have. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker at this point; it’s just something to be mindful of.

Overall, I’m liking Tooth and Nail: Factions quite a bit. And there are a few variations and expansions that I haven’t even touched yet, but I’m excited to give them a whirl!

This Kickstarter experience was great; I regret nothing. Thanks for reading!

Finding Lost Cities

By Firestone Some people have spouses who love to game with them, but for most of us, we’re always on the lookout for a game that might entice our significant other to join us in this hobby.

For many people, designer Reiner Knizia’s Lost Cities is the quintessential Spouse Game: It’s easy to teach, it’s 2-player only, there’s a decent amount of luck, and there are interesting decisions throughout.

If you’ve read our review of Reiner Knizia’s Battle Line, these mechanisms will be very familiar: play a card, and draw a card.

The theme is paper-thin, but every little bit helps when it comes to getting your wife or husband playing. You’re heading up a series of expeditions looking for fabled “lost cities.” The game comes with a small board, and a deck of 60 cards—45 of them run 2 through 10 five colors (or destinations), and then each color also has three Investment cards. You start the game with eight cards.

On your turn you will play a card—either down to one of the five expeditions in front of you, or into the communal discard pile for the color. Then you draw a card, either from the facedown deck or the top card from one of the color discard piles. You’re trying to get as many cards into as many expeditions as possible. The catch is that once you place a card for an expedition, the next card you play has to be higher than the last one played. It doesn’t have to be the next card in sequence; it just has to be higher. But the numbers only go two through 10, so if you start on five, you only have five more cards you can play—and that’s only if you’re able to draw those cards!

Since you’re forced to play a card each turn, sometimes you just want to delay having to start one of your expeditions until you can get some small numbers in that color, so you ditch a card onto a discard pile. You run the risk that’s just the card your opponent needed, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.

Another twist is those Investment cards I mentioned earlier. There are three in each color, and you have to play them at the beginning of an expedition. You can play all three if you’re lucky enough to draw them—and brave enough to play them. That’s because the first one doubles the value of the expedition at the end of the game; the second one triples it; and the third one quadruples it.

Why is that brave, you ask? Well, that’s because each expedition you launch has 20 points subtracted from it at the end of the game. Thematically, you can think of this as the money it costs to launch these endeavors to the ends of the earth. So let’s say on the green expedition you’re only able to play an Investment card, a two, a three, and a five by the time the game ends. You’ve only scored 10 points, but you subtract 20 points from that and you’re now at -10…except that Investment card now doubles it. You’re at a cool -20. Be very careful where you Invest…

One other small rule is that there’s a bonus of 20 points for any expedition that has eight or more cards in it—including Investment cards.

The game ends as soon as the draw deck runs out. You add up the points in each expedition, subtract the 20 points, add the 20 points (if applicable), and multiply (if applicable).

The game suggests playing three rounds, and since the rounds are short, it doesn’t take long at all.

Lost Cities is part of the Kosmos line of 2-player games. If you play a lot of 2-player games, I highly recommend checking these out—especially Jambo, Odin’s Ravens, The Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, and Balloon Cup. The artwork is colorful and evocative. The cards are oversized, and despite the fact that they have black borders, they don’t seem to be showing much wear.

Lost Cities is a very good 2-player game, and if you’re looking for the game to hook your spouse, this might just do the trick. Check back later in the week for our review of Lost Cities: The Board Game, which ramps this game up a notch.

Thanks for reading!

Dead Games - Pt. 2: Star Trek

[By Jeremiah]

So, this is kind of an odd game for me to be playing. I'm really not that big of a Star Trek fan, in fact, I'm a borderline hater. But a few of my gaming buddies wanted to get into the game, so I said, "Yeah, I'll go along with that." And when I say my friends wanted to get into the game, I mean, like a year ago nearly 15 years after the first series was printed, and several years after the last expansion of the Second Edition went to press. In my honest opinion, the best time to get into a CCG is well after the corpse is cold. 99% of dead games will have the bottom drop out on their value and you can buy boxes of starters and boosters for pennies on the dollar!

Stick with the First Edition - We play the first edition base set, along with the first expansion, mostly because it's super cheap to get into, (Alternate Universe - Booster boxes are like $10, If you look around on the internet.) but let me tell you, this game has problems. Decipher seems to have rushed it to market really fast. The biggest glaring problem to me is that there is no cost to play your cards. If you have a hand filled with heavy hitting crew members, ships, and equipment, you can lay 'em all down in one turn! Yep, just slap 'em down and start running missions! The gameplay is decent, but I have to be honest, I think we've done a fair job of butchering the rules.

Gameplay - So the game play looks something like this - During setup players take turns placing missions into the "space line" or "star line" basically in a big line across the table (you'll need a decent-sized table), then players take turns loading up these missions with "Dilemma" cards or "Artifact" cards. Dilemmas are just that, a dilemma your away team must face and resolve before completing the mission (mostly just by sitting around and talking about it - ok, that's not entirely true, just my dig on Star Trek); if you combo these up well, you can really throw a wrench in your opponents' works. Artifacts are items you find when you complete a mission, and they usually are helpful trinkets to add to your inventory.

It's Your Turn - On a turn players can play every stinking card in their hand if they want to, put them on a ship and then move the ship a certain distance along the space line thingy. Each mission card on the line has a distance value which determines your movement. If you choose to do a mission you must face and resolve all of the dilemmas, and then complete the mission - the mission usually consists of having a certain amount of abilities in your away team. (Each character card has a list of skills/abilities/attributes possessed by that particular character.) If your away team meets that criteria, you complete the mission and score the points for it. Yay. If not you have to wait until your next turn, wondering why you attempted the mission in the first place.

What Do I Think of it? - It's not the best CCG I've played, but it's not the worst either, as the expansions continued to hit the market Decipher made attempts to ratify the gaping holes in the game by adding card types and rules to the system. I don't think they ever got it to where they felt the game should be, so they released the Second Edition which revamped the game entirely.

If you're a big Star Trek the Next Generation fan, first I apologize for the smart remarks, and second it's worth spending $20-$30 and getting 2-3 boxes, keeping it around and seeing what kind of cool/funny/off the wall decks you can build with it. And if you get a "Future Enterprise" in an Alternate Universe box, you can still fetch about $30 on eBay for it and make your money back!

Amazon Has Star Trek CCG Right HERE!

Hoplite To It! [A Review of Battle Line]

[Review by Firestone] If there’s a king of board game design, it would have to be Reiner Knizia. This German genius has designed hundreds of games—including many that are at the top of the list of highest-rated games. (He’s definitely designed some stinkers, mind you, but his highs make up for his lows.)

What makes him so interesting is that his games are so diverse. His games go from 2-6 players. Some have auctions. Some don’t. Some have tile-laying. Some don’t. Some use cards. Others dice. Others wooden bits. Some are ridiculously simple to play. Some will make your brain hurt. He’s a wonder.

According to Boardgamegeek, I own 45 of his games—and I’ve probably played at least 50 more of his that I don’t even own. One of my favorites is a gem called Battle Line—a 2-player card game that I can’t recommend highly enough.

In it you have 9 small pawns, that you place in a left-to-right line between you and your opponent; these represent battlefields. The goal is to “win” either three fields that are next to each other, or any 5 fields. Here’s how you play the game: you play a card, and you draw a card. That’s it. Super simple, right? But as with so many Knizia games, the simple play reveals hidden depth.

Thematically, you’re a Greek general, and you’re playing down troop cards to win battles. There are 60 cards, numbered one through 10 in six different colors. On your turn you have to play a card down to your side of one of the battlefields. Only three cards can be on each side.

The way you determine who won is that you compare the “formations” on each side. They’re kinda like poker hands. Three cards in a numerical row of the same color (straight flush ) > three of the same number (three of a kind) > three of the same color (flush) > three in a numerical row of any colors (straight) > any combination of three colors and numbers (high cards).

Sometimes you’ll both play three of a kind down, and the tie is broken by who has the highest numbers on their cards.

At the end of your turn you can “claim” a battlefield if you’ve won it (by both having three cards down and your formation beats your opponent’s). You can also claim it if your opponent has at least two cards down, and you play your third one and there’s no way your opponent could win the battle. For instance, if your opponent has two 4’s on his side, if you play your third of three 5s on your side, there’s no way your opponent can beat you, so you can claim victory there.

There’s a great deal of angst, because sometimes you don’t want to play a card down, because you’re still waiting for juuuust the right card in a few places. But you have to, so you’re forced to ditch a card on a battle you just know you won’t win. But that gives your opponent a chance to get closer to winning. It’s so tense and wonderful!

As I said, the winner is the first person to win three battles next to each other, or any five across all nine battlefields.

But WAIT! There are also some cards called Tactics cards, that let you mess with things. At the end of your turn, when you draw a card, you can draw from the regular Troops deck, or draw a Tactics cards. Those allow you to break the rules in some way. There are only 10 of them, but they can be powerful. One is a wild color; one is a wild number; one lets you steal an opponent’s card from an unresolved battle, and one changes the rules for determining winner in one battle so that it’s only the numbers that count.

Some people think the Tactics cards insert too much luck, so they don’t play with them. I’ve played both ways, and I like both ways. Without Tactics cards makes for a more tense and thinky game, while playing with them makes it a little more thematic and “loose.”

If I had one complaint, it would be about the theme. It’s pretty boring, and publisher GMT Games used boring artwork on the cards. They’re functional, they’re just not fun. I must not be the only person who feels that way, because there are LOTS of rethemes for this game on Boardgamegeek, where people have created entirely new images to use for the game.

But other than that purely subjective gripe, this is one of the best 2-player games I’ve ever played—maybe the best. It’s super cheap, so consider giving this one a whirl!

 Thanks for reading!