Slide Quest: Tilted in the Right Direction

  • Designers: Nicholas Bourgoin, Jean-Francois Rochas
  • Artist: Stephane Escapa
  • Publisher: Blue Orange Games
  • Release Date: June 2019
The Podcast Version

Disclaimer: The game was provided to us for review by Blue Orange Games.

Luke: Slide Quest is… how do you even describe this game?

Phil: Childhood in a box?

Luke: Well yes, but mechanically. It’s such a unique game in terms of how it plays and the experience it provides.

Phil: It actually reminds me a lot of the Labyrinth games from when I was a kid.

Luke: I wouldn’t know, yah old coot.

Phil: Just get to explaining this new-fangled gizmo, you rambunctious whippersnapper.

Luke: You do that a little too well.

Phil: Years of practice.

Luke: Slide Quest stars the adventurous of our perilous, nameless knight as he adventures across 20 vast lands of danger and intrigue. The only problem? Our fearless do-gooder cannot control his body! Only the frighteningly erratic movements of the ground beneath his feet guides him to his ultimate destination, as if a gaggle of gods sits around a table, shifting him this-way and that.

Phil: The fiends!

Luke: But that’s not all! These incompetent buffoons are often found to be sending the knight to his untimely demise! Throwing him in pits, knocking over dynamite, even sending him careening off the board if 1 player is particularly exuberant.

Phil: Tedd.

Luke: Never forget, Tedd.

Phil: Put in simpler terms, players will be shifting a board at various angles to try and save the knight, set to roll about on a metal ball, moving him to the appropriate exits or to send various enemies falling into pits. This can grow even more perilous, with enemies needing to be defeated in a specific order or thrown in only the finest of pits. That pit’s not good enough for Enemy #1, no sir!

Luke: As we alluded to earlier, there’s a child-like wonder to seeing this all play out, feeling very satisfying in how the board nestles in the bottom of the box and the pieces all sit just right.

Phil: I actually think this is a great spectator game; sometimes, I’ll just sit back and watch people stare at the board os intently, fully immersed in a fairly simple game.

Luke: Slide Quest commands attention from the moment a round starts, with players frantically calling to each other for help or tilting it just a little too hard in the wrong direction to try and compensate for an already off-the-rails trajectory. It’s chaos, it’s hilarious, and it’s phenomenal.

Phil: And while we do specifically review 1- and 2-player games, this title is by far best at the full 4-player compliment.

Luke: That’s not to say that Slide Quest isn’t fun at lower player counts, but perhaps not as fun. The fewer people you have crammed around the table, the fewer uncertainties there are and the easier the game can become. In a 2-player game, Jess and I made our way through every map in a single sitting, and at 1-player, you have complete control over everything, making the base experience a bit of a cakewalk.

Phil: Which is why you can introduce timers and really put the pedal to the metal.

Luke: Which can be fun for some people, but timers have never been things I’ve been incredibly keen on unless it’s to reduce analysis paralysis. At these player counts, 2-player is definitely the better of the experiences, and even at a lower player count, this game is one-of-a-kind.

Verdict: Slide Quest is unique in the joy it brings to its players and the experience is conveys to those willing to give it a chance. Get a group of friends around the table and watch the unadulterated chaos commence. You owe it to yourself to give this game a chance, even if this isn’t your usual cup-of-tea; it’s that good.

Cindr: Burning With Passion

  • Designers: Harold Mikolaitis and Benjamin Walker
  • Artist: Leah Fuhrman
  • Publisher: Smirk and Laughter Games
  • Kickstarter Date: February 14th, 2020

Disclaimer: The prototype of this game was provided to us for review by Smirk and Laughter Games.

Luke: Valentine’s Day is probably the most divisive holiday of this generation. Most people dread it, some people buy into it, and a few people die because of it. It also acts as a launchpad for a handful of big-name products like… the Sonic the Hedgehog movie?

Phil: On Valentine’s Day?

Luke: I think that’s meant to be the joke. Like, it’s so unfitting that they just pushed it out on an awkward holiday so people “boycotting” Valentine’s Day have something to go do.


Luke: Perhaps a more fitting way to spend your time and money this season is to check out Cindr, Smirk and Laughter’s first Kickstarter title.

Making a confession has never been so easy.

Phil: I haven’t had the chance to check this title out, seeing as we only meet up every few weeks, so you’re going to have to fill me in.

Luke: Cindr, a play on Tinder and Grindr, is a parody of your typical dating app, giving you the chance to live out your life-long dreams of dating a dragon. Be the first to earn enough love from your dates and you win the game!

Phil: You actually earn love points?

Luke: It’s mostly a gauge of how well the date went, but yes, that’s the gist of it.

Which character will you be?

Each player starts with a character of their choosing, each a fantasy archetype, that can be customized with a name, gender preference, and a few details about yourself. While your titles are just for aesthetics, the answers to your dating profile questions will determine what dice you end up rolling on a given date.

Phil: I love the art for all of this, especially the dragons.

Luke: Yeah, it looks great, and one of the goals Curt Covert had when making the game was to have every dragon be presented as gender-fluid, which I think Leah Furman succeeded at accomplishing.

You know what they say, there are plenty of dragons in the sky.

Phil: It’s great to have that kind of representation here, especially in a game so focused on dating.

Luke: On a player’s turn, they are going to have the opportunity to “swipe left or right” to select the dragon date they think is right for them. Swiping left pushes a dragon into a line-up of rejects that can be dated by other players on their turns. If there are ever more than 3 in this line-up, the oldest one gets discarded permanently.

Phil: What stops players from just swiping left until they find whatever dragon they want?

Luke: After the first 2 times you swipe left in a turn, each time you do it afterward costs the players 1 love point. Once you’ve found a dragon whose description speaks to you, clueing on in on their preferences, you flip it over to see how they answered their dating profile questions. The closer your matches are, the better the dice you get to roll.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match…

Phil: I imagine the harder the dice, the fewer love results there are?

Luke: Yep, although the fire results on those dice tend to have sparks, which can trigger certain abilities on the dragons.

Each dragon has a different effect that can be triggered based on how the date goes, and when you go on a date, you get to check the Whelp app (a play off of Yelp) to see how your rendezvous might affect the date.

Where in the world shall we go, my love?

Phil: Get to rolling some dice already!

Luke: Players roll their dice up to 3 times. Each heart is a success, every fire a failure. Fires are set aside, and if you ever have 3, the whole date goes up in flames and you get no points for the round. You do, however, get a bonus card based on how many fires you rolled on your final attempt, allowing you to mitigate 1 future roll.

Sometimes, failure can be key to success.

After each roll, you can choose to stop and keep your hearts as points, but rolling 2nd time allows you to “get to the next step,” letting you keep the dragon you’re dating in front of you, allowing you to go on future dates with them, and rolling a 3rd time will bring the date to “the next level” and can trigger some bonus points, depending on the powers and abilities in play.

Once a player finishes rolling, they tally up their love points. Whoever makes it to 21 first wins!

Phil: Sounds like a pretty standard press-your-luck game.

Luke: Mechanically, yes, there isn’t too much new being brought to the table, but I don’t think Cindr needs to innovate the genre, far from it. Easily, the selling point here is the theme. Everything about the look and feel, the customization of your character, the ability to date various dragons or stick to dating one lovely lizard, it all feels in-line with the feeling of being on a cutsie romantic romp.

Phil: The dating questions affecting your dice pool is a nice touch.

Luke: And rather than outright telling you how compatible you are with a dragon, you have to read into their profile descriptions to get a feeling for their personality. It’s the story that you and your friends will be telling that’s exciting and interesting.

Phil: Any complaints?

Luke: Beyond the fact there isn’t all that much strategy to be found, even with the advanced variant that adds secret goals, the game can take a while to finish depending on how well players are rolling. If enough players are down on their luck, the game can drag on for a while, even with the help of the bonus cards.

Verdict: Cindr is a light dice-rolling, role-playing experience that sells itself on its looks rather than on its design. If you’re looking for a big, thought-provoking title, this one isn’t for you, but those interested in what the stories and funny moments have to offer, this might be the right game for you.

Kingdomino Duel: The Forgotten Family Crest

  • Designers: Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc
  • Artist: Cyril Bouquet
  • Publisher: Blue Orange Games
  • Release Dates: July 2019
The Podcast Version

Disclaimer: The game was provided to us for review by Blue Orange Games.


Luke: That’s right, folks, for the next 3 weeks, we’re going to be taking a look at 3 of Blue Orange’s most recently released games.

Phil: Starting off with-

Luke: Our least favorite.

Phil: Dude.

Luke: Hey, I’m not saying it’s bad (which it’s not), but I am saying that it’s our least favorite of the 3 titles we’ll be taking a look at. I think that’s honest.

Phil: Well yes, but it also puts a bad taste in the audience’s mouths from the get-go.

Luke: Fine, then how about this; Kingdomino Duel is a fine game in the Blue Orange repertoire, but we’re going to be talking about how its parents, Kingdomino and Queendomino, are not just older, but hardier, healthier, and overall more thoughtful choices to bring to the table.

Phil: Better.

A blank canvas of a kingdom.

Luke: Kingdomino Duel is a $15, 15 minute, pocket-sized roll-and-write iteration of the originals. Players are going to take turns rolling 4 dice, participating in a brief snake draft before combining their 2 selected dice to form a domino. Players will then place their domino on their sheet with at least one symbol adjacent to another of the same type, drawing in the appropriate symbols.

Dice are composed of various shields, which replace the green fields and icy blue waters of Kingdomino as the terrain types. Some shields are accompanied with x’s, acting as the crowns that facilitate scoring. If a shield doesn’t include an x, you’ll instead make a checkmark on a shared powers sheet; if you earn enough of the appropriate checkmarks, you’ll earn a special ability that your opponent can no longer access.

Phil: Once a player builds a suite of these powers, they can do some crazy stuff, splitting their dice, ignoring regular placement rules, or getting extra checkmarks.

Play continues until a player’s sheet is full or someone cannot make a legal placement anymore, at which point players will score each “region” of shields (squares x checkmarks) plus any bonus points provided by abilities. Whoever built the best kingdom wins!

X marks the points.

Luke: There are a number of players who I’ve seen enjoy this game largely due to its quick playtime and smart back-and-forth, and I can see how some would find a sense of tension and competition here, but for us, there wasn’t much encouraging us to return to this title.

Phil: Many of the actions feel scripted, as there are frequently optimal plays that present themselves, which makes for an experience of going through the motions. That’s not to say those plays are always the most obvious, but you are frequently restricted by where you can place dominos or what die-faces were rolled, providing you with only a handful of options.

Luke: This is perhaps what lends itself to its short timeframe, which is certainly a nice feature when combined with its fairly small tablespace. Learning and playing the game for the first time will take no longer than 25 minutes max, a hard feat for most games on the market.

With only a handful of dice, turns move pretty quickly.

Phil: But is a quick, okay experience worth the effort and energy?

Luke: Not when Blue Orange already has a great alternative on hand. While we don’t frequently hear about Kingdomino or Queendomino at smaller player counts, it provides a rather fulfilling experience in 20 minutes.

The draft feels a bit more interesting, with more options available in a given round than usual, meaning you have to pay particularly close attention to what you’re pulling. Not only that, you but draft 2 tiles per round, meaning you’ll find yourself caught in weird, interesting draft orders.

Phil: It also allows for the game to move that much quicker, with half the rounds as usual. The only downside is that you won’t see every tile in the game, meaning you could end up with rounds where players get stuck with terrains that have been largely unused for the game. The luck of the draw can be frustrating to some, but we didn’t mind it much.

Luke: Frankly, that little bit of unpredictability can lead to some funny or interesting moments that will draw players in to do weird or unique things with their boards.

A relaxing, afternoon writing romp.

Verdict: While all 3 have been made in part by the same designer, Kingdomino and Queendomino have a more satisfying play loop, with a more colorful and intuitive experience. Kingdomino Duel, while a quick and smart reimplementation, feels pale in comparison. If we were to pick one of the 3, we’d suggest Queendomino most of all.

Marvel Champions: Green Goblin, Ms. Marvel, and Captain America

  • Designers: Michael Boggs (Green Goblin and Ms. Marvel) and Caleb Grace (Captain America)
  • Artists: Uncredited, Various
  • Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
  • Release Date: December 2019
The Podcast Version

Phil: Wow, what a few months it’s been with these 3 expansions, left cozily at our doorstep just before Christmas.

Luke: Feels like it was barely a couple of months ago we were justing learning the ropes of this holds-no-bar Fantasy Flight-fueled world.

Phil: … Yeah, more or less.

Luke: So you know what that means.

Phil: Don’t tell me; an obligatory “let’s rank them” roundup of yester-year’s content before we see the likes of the Wrecking Crew crashing around the corner.

Luke: You know it! Though I resent the term “obligatory” in this case.

Phil: True, there’s nothing saying we “have” to do this. We most certainly didn’t receive any review copies.

Luke: I just think it’s healthier to take the time with these packs of cards before talking about them to extensively. Less reactionary and more considerate of their impacts thus far, you know?

Phil: Hey man, I’m here, same as you. Let’s just get down to it, shall we?

Green Goblin

Luke: Starting us off, we have our only villain expansion, which was something of a mixed bag.

Phil: Yeah, on the one hand, we have the Risky Business scenario, that has the really neat premise of having Green Goblin swap out for his evil alter ego periodically throughout the scenario, making him an elusive target to deal damage to, all while dishing out a substantial amount of damage.

Luke: Sure, but from what I’ve seen on the forums, as well as my personal experience, this may be the easiest villain to defeat yet. Players have so much control over when they take damage, when Norman turns into Green Goblin, and so on. Lots of the cards in his deck are sensitive to which form he’s in, making them whiff as often as they hit, and with not much ompf to speak of.

Phil: Well, if you want hard, Mutagen Formula will give you a run for your money, packed with minions and side schemes that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. I’d say this one’s on par with Ultron in terms of the scope of what you’ll be facing. We’ve never had more fun being brutally crushed by a scenario.

Luke: It’s really interesting how the “goblin” keyword is used in smart and interesting ways, acting as the method for threat to accumulate on the final main scheme card.

That being said, I personally think the star of the show here are the modular encounter sets available. While the default one is kind of boring, featuring Gobo’s various technological tools, most of them feature some of Spidey’s classic villains, including Scorpion, Electro, and Tombstone. I think these will ultimately have a long-lasting impact on how I experience not just this set, but previous villains in new lights. Do I hear a Sinister Six scenario set down the road???

Phil: Let’s not delve into the realm of theory crafting when we have so much more to talk about, like-

Ms. Marvel

Luke: I’m super psyched that Ms. Marvel made an appearance here so early on in the Marvel Champions cycle, throwing in a rather recent, albeit popular, character into the mix of largely well-known and well-worn faces.

Phil: She is getting her own TV show after all.

Luke: Sure, but not for a while now. Nearly everyone we’ve seen up until this point has had far more publicity outside of Ms. Marvel’s explosive launch as the first Muslim superhero a few years back.

Phil: All the more reason for her to be here.

Luke: Exactly, and wow does she have some neat tools in her arsenal. Rather than relying on her hero stats, players will be able to return event cards to their hands after playing them, basically letting you double-dip some pretty powerful effects.

Phil: And due to her being able to draw into her hero cards more easily, thanks to Kamala Khan’s ability, you’ll likely never have a shortage of options.

Luke: The cards that come with her set are awesome, some of my favorite (they are Protection cards after all), with a force field card similar to the Med Team or Tac Team cards, as well as ways to negate boost cards while dealing damage.

Phil: They are great cards, sure, but not great for Kamala, at least not at 2- or 1-player games, as she needs to hold her own more often, forcing her to focus on removal more than defending.

Luke: For my solo plays, building a deck for her has posed a bit of a problem, as often this results in her being rather focused on one thing, usually fighting or thwarting. Additionally, Aggression currently has the most event cards that trigger off her ability, making it the default for many decks I’ve seen online.

Phil: With such a diverse ability, you’re going to need new, inventive ways to build her deck, and I think that once the card pool is a bit wider, we’ll see more interesting builds for her.

Captain America

Luke: I’m honestly surprised Cap didn’t show up in the base game box.

Phil: Honestly? I think he was slated to for a while until they swapped him out for She-Hulk, who was a late addition to the set. Probably because they figured Cap would sell more easily on his own, and it may have been easier to make a themed pack for him that lined up with the release schedule.

Luke: Now who’s theory-crafting?

Phil: *sigh* I say all this because Cap feels like a beginner character. Not that he’s bad or anything, far from it, he just seems like a more straightforward hero than most that can take on almost any aspect without much issue. His ability to do his basic actions multiple times in a turn can be a huge boon, and counters a lot of scenario cards that tap your hero.

Luke: My Cap Protection deck is easily one of my favorites to play with so far, and feels very thematically on point.

Phil: Unlike Cap himself, though, the cards that come with his set feel rather rigged and linear, focusing almost exclusively on the “Avenger” keyword. This is further accentuated by the fact that nearly all cards that deal with that keyword are relegated to the Leadership aspect, pointing to a somewhat obvious build.

Luke: Yeah, I find myself disliking anything that feels pre-built for me, and Leadership Avengers feels like a shoo-in for just that. There are some great allies and tools for other aspects here, but for the most part, I don’t see the card pool here being particularly beneficial to the game state at such an early stage of its life.


Phil: Oh jeez, we’re going to rank the expansions?

Luke: Well, sure, moving forward I want to compare all the game’s expansions to one another, with the ruling of not comparing villain sets with hero sets, as they’re like apples and oranges.

Phil: So I guess Green Goblin sits atop that throne with little competition?

Luke: At this point, yeah, although it was definitely the most lackluster of the 3 sets that came out thus far, though I think that’s slightly colored by the fact that new heroes will always be a bit more exciting than new villains in my eyes.

Phil: So how do you figure Cap and Ms. Marvel go toe-to-toe?

Luke: While Ms. Marvel is by far the harder to the two to build decks for, that challenge is welcome and an interesting puzzle and the cards that come in her set are more versatile and interesting, so I’d give her a step ahead of Cap. He may be my favorite hero yet, but he feels easier to play overall and with a card pool that stands on its own for now.

Verdict: If you’re looking to pick these up post-launch and you can only afford so much, we’d suggest picking up Ms. Marvel first, then Captain America, and then Green Goblin. We’re curious how they’ll stand up to future content, so be sure to check in each month for our thoughts on the previous month’s additions!

One Deck Galaxy: A New Galaxy of Options

  • Designers: Chris Cieslik
  • Artist: Alanna Cervenak
  • Publisher: Asmadi Games
  • Kickstarter Date: Coming Soon (Check Back For Updates!)

Disclaimer: The prototype of this game was provided to us by Asmadi Games.

Luke: Space! The final fron-

Phil: You promised me you wouldn’t do it.

Luke: But Phil-


Luke: Fine.

Phil: I can say without exaggeration that One Deck Galaxy is one of the best games we came across during our adventures through PAX Unplugged.

Luke: Jeez, bold start.

Phil: I can’t help it; every time I play, I just want to set it up and do it all over again.

Luke: Lucky how quick the set-up and tear-down is.

Phil: Isn’t that kind of the One Deck series’ thing? Small box, lots of game tucked inside.

Luke: I thought that was Tiny Epic’s thing.

Phil: Gamelyn Games WISHES they could make a game this good.

Luke: This is… a fair point, and I have to admit, One Deck Galaxy is a great game and a huge improvement over the original.

Phil: I never got to try the first one.

Luke: One Deck Dungeon and it’s stand-alone forest-themed sequel, in my opinion, suffered from moments where you would kick down a door and find… tasks that you literally couldn’t accomplish, essentially wasting the players time because they came across stuff they couldn’t do.

If a shadow falls in a forest and there’s no one there to see it, does it cast shade?

Also, the theme was kind of… uninspired. Your typical fantasy fare. Nothing to make me dislike the game all that much, it just wasn’t all that appealing to me.

But it’s clear by the design choices at play here that Asmadi has upped their game and created something particularly special.

Phil: Can I do the honors?

Luke: I don’t see why not.

Phil: One Deck Galaxy is a 1- or 2-player co-op game in which players are attempting to defeat one of three variable bosses through THE POWER OF DICE. Each player starts the game with a unique character and role that informs what dice and abilities you have access to, as well as the types of tasks you have to accomplish to progress.

Look at those POWERFUL DICE!

Each round, the villain will progress in some dastardly and otherworldly fashion. Each villain has their own means of progressing their plans, whether it be amassing dice to bring about the fall of your plans or throwing away huge chunks of the deck every few rounds until you have nothing left to work with. They’re all unique and they’re all difficult; I haven’t won the game yet.

Luke: Not that that’s a bad thing.

Phil: Absolutely; co-ops need to be particularly hard to hold the player’s attention, but not so hard that it feels insurmountable, and this hits that nice sweet spot.

After the villain activates, you’ll roll dice and see how you can use them to advance the 4 cards that currently compose the tableau. Unlike One Deck Dungeon, players always have access to all 4 options, and there are ways of cycling out particularly difficult ones, like turning them in science.

Luke: That’s another big change here; science and ships are two forms of currency players can collect throughout the game, providing a very important use for dice that would otherwise have no purpose. It makes you feel like you always have something to do.

Pick your progress.

Phil: Ah-HEM.

Luke: Sorry. Continue.

Phil: Cards may have different restrictions or slight rules changes on them, but generally speaking, you’ll match your dice with the colored spaces on the cards. A single block means you can only put 1 die there, whereas a longer rectangle means you can put any number of dice there. Each activation section will progress that planet a certain number of times until eventually, you’ll get to take it as a level-up.

Players can use them either as abilities that can be activated once per round, often with a cost, or as additionally dice that you’ll gather at the start of each round.

All of this builds to fight the big baddy, which must be done in a timely manner. Each adversary has their own activation card that must be fought, getting progressively harder to complete successfully. In addition, players must have completed enough of their personal tasks before dealing another hit. Act too slowly, and the game will outpace you and send your team spiraling into unmitigated defeat. If players are able to outpace the game and remove the enemy’s final hitpoint, they win!

The faces of your destruction.

Luke: If there’s one complaint I have, it’s that, compared to the creative and exciting characters you play as, most of the cards just depict fairly dull images of planets or ships. There’s not too much character to them, and it doesn’t inspire a feeling of adventure in me.

Phil: True, but players will more likely be focused on the requirements the cards are showing rather than the art.

Luke: Agreed, and the cutsie heroes make up for it in spades. I love playing as a rascally pirate or a radish person. They’re so goofy and aloof, it brings me a ton of joy to run around in their shoes for a half hour or so.

Which one is your favorite?

Phil: Games are fairly quick and easily understood after a round or two, and the gameplay loop is intuitive. There are a lot of choices to be made each turn, some more easily than others, and it’s easy to see that this game challenges the player’s conception of what makes a good strategy frequently.

Luke: It may feel a little mechanical to some, which is why I think the 2-player iteration is the better of the 2 modes, as players bouncing ideas off each other and talking through your decisions livens up the experience.

Phil: I’ve definitely enjoyed it 1-player, but I do think having another person by your side makes the game a bit more exciting and tense.

Luke: Either way, I think this is an easy recommendation from us.

Verdict: One Deck Galaxy builds off of its predecessor in smart, unpredictable ways that keep the system feeling fresh. What changes have been made are for the better, and the love and passion the Asmadi team has shown for their game gives us confidence that you’ll receive nothing but the best when purchasing one of their games. Definitely take the time to check out their Kickstarter page when it launches.

Set a Watch: Burning Questions Around the Campfire

  • Designers: Mike Gnade and Todd Walsh
  • Artists: Andreas Rocha and Robert P. Schneider
  • Publisher: Rock Manor Games
  • Release Date: September 2019

Phil: … So wait, this isn’t a game about setting your wristwatch?

Luke: *laughs* No.

Phil: Thank god.

Luke: I think this game is right up your alley, to be honest, being a big DnD player.

Phil: Well sure, the theme is certainly piquing my interest. A band of adventurers trying to survive night after night of baddies, strategically sitting out of fights to rest? Sign me up. But that’s not to say anything of the gameplay.

What awaits our perilous heroes in the darkness of night?

Luke: Well, Set a Watch is, fittingly, a cooperative game where you and your compatriots control 4 different heroes; if you can survive 9 nights of terrors, all culminating in the dreadful Hoard, you win!

Phil: Doesn’t this game support solo mode as well?

Luke: It does, but having to control 4 characters can be exhausting by yourself. It is doable, don’t get me wrong, but I think the 2-player iteration (for the purposes of what we review) is where it’s at.

Phil: Yeah, I’ve always been a little hesitant of games in which you’re always controlling 4 characters like Fury of Dracula, as it can leave little variability and can, as you said, feel overwhelming.

Luke: Fear not, my good man, for the tavern is filled to bursting with 6 of the realms finest warriors, 8 if you have the deluxe edition, meaning you’ll have a varied assortment of fighters each game regardless.

The gang’s all here.

Phil: Truly, this land is blessed by warriors most valiant.

Luke: What distinguishes them are whether or not they roll d6’s or d8’s and an assortment of 5 distinct ability cards, 3 of which will start in play each game.

Each round, players will reveal a new location card, which will inform players of whether or not their campfire will dim (more on that later), the number of enemies they will be facing, and any special rules this area has. Then, players will roll their dice, determining afterward who will be resting for the night.

As the adventurers of this world have been unionized, each character is alotted 2 rests apiece for the journey, meaning you have to be smart and selective when choosing who takes a nap this night.

Phil: Unions? So this really is a fantasy-themed game.

Wait… where’s the “make smores” option?

Luke: A character who rests heals 1 of their 3 abilities for free, acting as hit points for that hero. Then, they may use their 3 dice as they see fit to take a few different actions:

  • Chop Firewood: Increase your fire’s intensity by 2, protecting you from the encroaching darkness.
  • Scout Ahead: Look at the top 2 creatures in the monster deck and choose to put them on top or the bottom of the deck in any order.
  • Check the Map: Look at the top card of the location deck and unused location deck; choose which one the adventurers will face next.
  • Equip: Swap one of your ability cards for 1 of your 2 leftovers.
  • Heal: Flip one of your abilities to its active side.
  • Runes: Spend multiple dice of the same value to allow players to reroll dice, remove cards from the game, and/or returned Unhallowed back to the dark pit they came from.

Some of these are easier to accomplish while others require specific dice values (Scout Ahead requires a 4+, while Heal requires a 6 exactly).

Phil: But while one of your heroes rest, the enemies come marching in, right? Because you know what they say-

Luke: Don’t you do it-

Phil: There’s no rest for the wicked.

Luke: *sigh* After all camp actions are taken, the enemies line themselves up in a nice, orderly fashion, waiting their turn to get pummeled. Players will be able to fend off only the enemies they can see, depending on how strong your fire is. The brighter it burns, the more you can see, revealing up to 3 enemies at a time.

Phil: What happens if your campfire ever goes out?

Luke: If it would reach 0, one of the characters in the fight would exhaust an ability, ie take a damage, instead. If there’s ever a situation where all heroes are incapacitated, ie they have no health left, everyone loses.

Phil: Now that you mention it, how do abilities work?

Wizard needs dice, badly.

Luke: Players may use their dice in 2 ways. Direct attacks deal the value of the die as damage. Melee characters can attack enemies at the front of the line, whereas ranged characters can either attack characters in 1st or 2nd position.

If you only roll low values, though, fear not! For dice can also be used to activate your abilities, either dealing large amounts of damage to possibly unreachable foes, buffing the other heroes in the fight, or moving monsters around the battlefield, making them easier to face. Passive abilities can be used once per battle without spending a die.

Phil: So each ability can only be used once per fight?

Luke: Not necessarily; the other way you can activate an ability is by exhausting it, essentially wounding yourself and making it inaccessible during future turns until it’s been healed. While you could do this instead of spending a die, you could also activate an ability twice in this way, once with a die and once by exhausting it.

Phil: I like it; that provides a lot of interesting choices that can keep the game fresh.

Luke: And let’s not forget the enemies, each with their own ruthless abilities. Depending on how they’re lined up, you could face any combination of baddies in a given night.

On top of this, a certain number of Summon cards are shuffled into the deck, acting like Epidemic cards from Pandemic: when one appears, a hero takes a damage and an Unhallowed creature appears, with brutal effects that can get wildly out of control if left unattended.

The dead have never looked so good.

Phil: There must be some nights where not all of the enemies are defeated; what happens then?

Luke: When players have done as much as they are able and there are still monsters out, each will march to the front of the line, applying any abilities that trigger, and then deal a certain amount of damage to the party before retiring to the Hoard.

The Hoard will build up over the course of the game with undefeated enemies until, in the final round, they’ll all come out at the end of the line, waiting to punish you for your past failures.

Phil: Yikes, sounds harsh.

Luke: It can be, but the difficulty curve here feels good for a cooperative game, giving you victories you fight for and can feel proud of.

Phil: Now let me guess; the game ends in victory if at least one of the party members still has health at the end of the final night.

Luke: You’ve got it.

Phil: Makes sense, considering the grand scope and epic nature of the final night.

Luke: All heroes participate in the final fight too, making the players feel stronger with 3 extra actions to fend off the seemingly endless waves.

Some locales are far less murderous than others.

Phil: You know, the way you talk about this one makes me think you might actually like it.

Luke: Honestly? This is probably one of my favorite co-op games.

Phil: … Of the year?

Luke: No, like… in general. “Of all time” you might say.

Phil: High praise from a picky man such as yourself.

Luke: It’s certainly earned it; there’s a lot to love about the tough choices, the interesting action system, the variety of characters and encounters, and the great melding of theme and mechanics that warrants the fantasy theme for a change.

If there’s one criticism I would have, it’s that the writing in the game is pretty rough. Cards are poorly written and make it slightly obtuse what certain monsters do, the rulebook is a bit of a mess, making this game particularly hard to learn, and the only real way to get around this is using BGG, which is a great resource but not one that everyone is aware of or would think to check. For what it’s worth, this game could have used an editor.

Phil: … Are you just saying that because you’re an editor?

Luke: Perhaps that’s why it bothers me as much as it does, but for a game that’s such a complete package, it’s a shame to have this one niggling complaint that clearly affects how players experience the game and could have had an easy fix. I just hope they hire someone for their stand-alone expansion when it hits Kickstarter this fall.

Disclaimer: Players could get burned by bad luck.

Verdict: Set a Watch provides a unique, tense, and wholly satisfying co-op experience, win or lose. Every choice is a burning question that you and your team will have to consider, making educated decisions and risky, often exciting plays to resolve. Some characters may feel better than others, but we’d say that’s more due to ease of play than balance. This is a game everyone should try at least once; if you’re a fan of cooperative experiences or enjoy more involved solo experiences, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.

AlderQuest: Searching for Snowflakes Amidst the Acorns

  • Designers: Ryan Ward, Mike Gnade
  • Artist: Lawrence Burns
  • Publisher: Rock Manor Games
  • Kickstarter Date: January 7th

Disclaimer: A prototype of this game was provided to us by designer Ryan Ward for review.

Luke: You know, I’m not entirely sure why this game is called AlderQuest.

Phil: Well, an alder is a type of tree, much like the one that sits in the middle of the board-

Luke: Right, so we’re not really “questing” for the tree. It’s, like, the biggest thing on the table!

Phil: It is pretty big; I have to say, it’s a pretty neat centerpiece to the board, even if it gets in the way at times.

Luke: Oh sure. When I was playing this with the designer at a local pub a week back, people were stumbling over all night in awe, asking about what game we were playing. Table presence has its perks but at the cost of having to stand for most of the game to see everything on the board.

Yggdrasil has nothing on this beauty.

Phil: To be fair, it is the thematic and mechanical focal point of the game; players are trying to gather up the valuable acorns of their opponent and bring them to the tree, hoping to score them by matching various symbols on a sideboard. Whoever scores the most by the time 4 snowflakes are removed from the game (signaling the start of winter) wins.

Luke: The aesthetic makes great thematic sense and has been popular lately in the board game industry, with a few notable woodland-themed games released in the last couple of years.

Phil: Players control 3 heroes, representing action points you have on your turn, as well as some special abilities you can access. There are 4 different guilds you can use, each with their own focus and theme; each player will get to use 2 of these guilds, shuffling together their action cards alla Smash Up.

At the start of your turn, you’ll place any acorns you’ve accumulated face-down on the board. Generally speaking, you’ll always have one to place, but the effects and abilities your opponent uses might increase this number. Acorns can be victory points, valued 1, 2, or 3, snowflakes that trigger end-game, or traps that allow your opponent to get into some mischief.

Eenie, meenie, miney…

You’ll place each of your tokens face-down, making your opponent wonder; what is that token? Why did they put it so close to me? Are they trying to make me think it’s a trap, or is it ACTUALLY a trap??? The bluffing element can be very interesting, assuming players take the time to think about it, but more often than not, unless card effects added more traps into the game, there’s no reason not to take the time to check each token in hopes of points.

Luke: It can also be pretty hard to keep track of when your opponent put down what token, so by mid-way through the game, you barely remember what the chances a given token is one thing or another.

Phil: After placing your acorns, you’ll draw 3 tokens from a public bag. This will provide you with symbols that must be placed on the equally-important sideboard. Much like Candy Crush, players are looking to match symbols of 3 or more to try and gather resources. Match the symbols associated with your guilds, and you’ll get those tokens as a form of currency. Match your opponents, you’ll get to add a random line of 4 tokens to the top of the board. And match any point tokens and/or snowflakes, and those tokens will score, with snowflakes being set aside as the timer.

Matching comes naturally to a seasoned player.

Luke: Is there any particular benefit to making sets of more than 3? Other than more resources I mean.

Phil: Each faction has their own effect that comes into play if you successfully match 4 of your guild’s symbol, and a match-5 will result in you receiving a powerful effect that can be activated for devastating results.

Luke: Goes to show that perfectionism has its perks.

Phil: Perhaps, but the only times you’ll be able to pull off a large match like that is if luck is very much in your favor. Set it up for the next round, and it’s more than likely your opponent will take the time to dismantle the opportunity, leaving you out of luck and with fewer resources to boot.

Luke: Fair point.

Phil: Using your actions will allow you to slightly affect the sideboard, swapping adjacent tokens and adding lines, but you can also spend a resource to summon a minion. Each minion, starting the turn after it’s summoned, has a movement of 2 and can be moved across the board to try and collect your opponent’s acorns or to act as goalies and block the opponent’s progress. If minions run into each other, they “squabble” and are removed from the board. Some effects will allow them to be upgraded, giving them abilities and special movement properties.

Birdies and turtles and toads, oh my!

Lastly, each hero has its own abilities that can be activated for a cost of 2 or 3 tokens, depending on how strong the effect is. This in tandem with the Quarrel cards that can be activated at any point during your turn provides a plethora of options that make each guild feel all the more unique.

When you’re down taking actions, you’ll draw a card if you’re below 3 and draw an acorn to be placed on your next turn. This continues until the 4th snowflake (and the loser) falls.

Luke: A lot of the effects in this game seems geared towards a take-that mentality.

Phil: Absolutely, fans of the mechanic will feel right at home here, having fun poking at their opponent while trying desperately to find ways to defend themselves against similar attacks.

Up to the treetops, sneak, sneak, sneak…

It can also mean the game can run particularly long; the box suggests 60 minutes, but the process of finding snowflakes, getting them onto the board, and activating them in a way that also earns you points can be a daunting and timely task. Not to mention if one player starts falling behind, they can use all their cards and abilities to slow down the game in hopes of giving themselves the chance to catch up.

Luke: That being said, I can certainly see couples or friends spending an evening head-to-head, trying to outthink each other in a tense battle of wits.

Phil: One more thing I’d like to touch on is the art; I absolutely love the Looney Toons aesthetic at play here, giving some great character to the woodlands creatures that populate the land. The coloring and design make each animal pop in a way that sticks in my mind.

Luke: They certainly look good, but some players might find the number of colors and information on the board to be overwhelming, as it can be easy to miss a couple of key details amidst the flurry of images.

A lot of game in a pretty skinny box.

Verdict: AlderQuest looks great and has an interesting gameplay loop that will keep fans of take-that enamored with it for hours at a time. It’s a little long for our tastes and progress is slow-going here, but if you think this is the game for you, be sure to take the time to back it on Kickstarter here.

Similo: Familiar Faces

  • Designers: Martino Chiacchiera, Hjalmar Hach, Pierluca Zizzi
  • Artist: Xavier Durin
  • Publisher: Horrible Guild
  • Release Date: December 12th, 2019

Disclaimer: This game was provided to us by Luma Games for review.

Phil: So… why Similo?

Luke: What?

Phil: You were the one who was interested in checking this one out.

Luke: Well sure; the art looks great, the premise is simple, and it takes elements of Mysterium and Codenames and puts them in a small package.

Phil: The art is great. I particularly like the expressions on the characters’ faces. It gives them more of a personality and makes them endearing.

Luke: The backgrounds are my favorite, like backdrops in a play, coloring the mood and atmosphere of the source material.

Which of these famous faces is the answer?

Phil: So, yeah, the art’s great, blah blah blah, but what about the gameplay?

Luke: In Similo, much like Codenames, there’s a clue-giver and there’s a guesser. The cluegiver is given a random face out of a crowd of 12 that they have to make the guesser… well, guess. Each round, the cluegiver plays a character card either up-and-down or sideways. Up-and-down means the goal card is similar to the one just played, whereas sideways means that the goal card is different.

Then, the guesser must eliminate a number of cards from the line-up depending on the round; in the first round 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, and finally 1, as there will only be 2 cards remaining. If at any point the goal card is eliminated, the game ends in failure. But if the goal card is successfully saved for the end, everyone wins!

Phil: … That’s it?

Luke: Not quite. The wrinkle here is that different themed decks can be combined to play a game. For example, players could use the Historical Figures deck for the 12 character grid and the Fables deck to provide the clues.

Different characters, Similo package.

Phil: So it’s cooperative Guess Who?.

Luke: No, no, it’s… it’s…

Phil: One player is giving information about a secret face that needs to be deduced over a certain number of rounds.

Luke: … $#!*, you’re right.

Phil: If anything, the biggest difference is there are fewer instances for your relatives to use outdated and problematic stereotypes as clues.

Luke: Now that you mention it, I have noticed that some of the same clue-types are used across multiple games. Gender is a popular determining factor for a lot of gaming groups, I find, as well as heroes/villains.

Phil: In many ways, our brains are hardwired to search for those kinds of correlations, so it makes sense. If anything, I’d be concerned about the ever-present “meta clues” that would crop up in Dixit or Mysterium, ie clues that became permanent over time, requiring a more diverse set of cards to refresh the experience.

Luke: And luckily, that is a thing that we’ll see here, as more decks are being made, such as the upcoming Myths deck.

Phil: Which is great, considering Historical Figures doesn’t work great to give clues for Puss-In-Boots or the Sea Witch.

Luke: Yeah, I definitely agree that it was an odd choice to release these 2 decks at the same time, seeing as the general relationship to one another is stretched thin. It feels like this game is aimed at more casual audiences, possibly families, so having leaders from across history seems like a hard ask for kids to recognize or easily remember.

Phil: There are brief synopses on the cards if you’re in the dark as to who someone is, but these are only marginally helpful.

Verdict: I think for family gatherings or getting kids interested in the hobby, this is a great and more accessible intro thanks to the amazing art and cooperative gameplay, plus it’s small, making it easy to travel with. Older audiences will likely tire of it after 6 or 8 plays, but if enough decks are released, we could see this having the scope and size of Timelines one day, giving it a versatility that will appeal to a wider audience.

Marvel Champions: More Novel Than Graphic

  • Designers: Michael Boggs, Nate French, and Caleb Grace
  • Artists: Various (Uncredited on BGG)
  • Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
  • Release Date: November 1st, 2019

Phil: Just get it out of the way.

Luke: But I’m gonna come across as pretentious or something.

Phil: Yeah, that’s why you should just say it now so we can all move along with our lives.

Luke: *sigh* So, I’m a big Marvel nerd. No, not the “I watch all the movies” kind, more like “I not only read comics but try to keep up to date with the lore and ideas within the mythos even when I have no interest in reading certain series” kind. You know, occasionally insufferable kind.

Phil: “Occasionally.”

Luke: While I found the films exciting at first, a lot of the creativity and life that once fueled them now resides at the bottom of Disney’s immense coffers, too risky to be introduced into the wildly popular film dynasty they’ve built for themselves.

Phil: In other words, they’re people pleasers.

Luke: Am I not people, Phil?

Phil: Not the people who Disney sells to.

Luke: Darn right.

Phil: But what does your weirdly and somewhat specific background in Marvel have anything to do with this?

Luke: Well, from the off-set, I was pretty skeptical of Marvel Champions, mostly because it’s visually sloppy. Various art styles and designs are mashed together for convenience, making even the good art assets stand out awkwardly, and the icons used are poorly conceived and executed. Frankly, it was a hard pill to swallow.

They’ve certainly seen better days…

Phil: And yet, you decided to take your medicine.

Luke: That I did. I could barely believe it when I heard that this was a reimplementation of the Arkham Horror LCG, a game that I enjoyed more in concept than execution.

Phil: Isn’t that the #1 beloved solo board game of all time on BGG? Dude, you could get banished from the 1-Player Guild for saying stuff like that.

Luke: Perhaps, but I stand by it. Arkham Horror, being a game of spooky frights, is full of uncertainty and tall tales, which in gamers’ terms translates to some significant random chance and long-winding narrative, which are elements I don’t care for much in my games.

Phil: Random chance needs to exist in just about any board game.

Luke: Absolutely, but the degree of luck at play in a number of the Arkham scenarios I’ve played was significant enough to make me feel out of control, which, to be fair, lends itself well to the theme, but didn’t make for a fun experience. Luckily, the differences are significant enough to make each experience wholly unique, even if they do utilize similar formats and mechanics.

Unlike these rivals, Arkham Horror and Marvel Champs can coexist peacefully.

Phil: So… how much did you pay for your copy of Marvel Champions?


Phil: *Stares*

Luke: Don’t look at me like that.

Phil: Say it.

Luke: You say it.

Phil: $60!!! For a bunch of cards and tokens.

Luke: I knooooooow.

Phil: And they don’t even include dividers in the box!!!

Luke: I knooooooooooooow.

Phil: It’s like highway robbery.

Luke: I knoooooooooooooooooooow, but at least this time around you don’t need to buy multiple sets of the base game to get enough copies of each card.

Phil: That’s not a defense, that’ an indictment of the garbage policies these LCGs have had up until this point.

Luke: Okay, it’s a bit pricey for what it is, absolutely, but for my money, this is one of the best games I’ve played all year.

Phil: … Alright, I’m listening.

I think I’m seeing triple…

Luke: Each game focuses on defeating a pre-selected villain before they can rub their hands maniacally for long enough to get away with whatever evil plot they’re up to.

Each of the 5 heroes has somewhere between 15 and 20 unique cards that must be included in their deck. Otherwise, you may add cards from 1 of the 4 types (aggression, leadership, justice, and protection) and neutral cards until your deck is composed of between 40 and 50 cards.

Some folks might be bothered by how limited this may seem, but it leaves each character maintaining its own flavor while allowing for interesting combinations when exploring your options. Deckbuilding is thoughtful but much quicker than in games like the Lord of the Rings LCG, letting you get to the game sooner while also feeling accomplished with the thing you cobbled together.

Each game, your hero will start on their civilian side and-

Phil: Civilian?

Just making some last-minute adjustments to my deck.

Luke: Yeah, this is easily the coolest mechanic in the game. Each hero has two forms that they can switch between during a game, each providing different abilities, actions, and hand sizes. Additionally, villains will only attack you according to which form you’re in during the villain phase, meaning that how you end your turn will have a huge effect on how the villain reacts to you.

Phil: Woah.

Luke: It gets better. Certain cards can only be used or activated when you are one version of a hero or another, meaning that, since you can only flip your hero once per turn, you’ll have to think of a clever pattern of how to play your cards in order to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

For instance, Peter Parker gives their hero a free mental resource to use once per turn, but many of his cards can only be used as a hero, so you have to think about what cards to include in your deck or play before becoming Spidey in order to maximize the use of his powers.

“Science can solve all your resource worries.” – Peter Parker

Phil: Resource costs? How many are there, and does that mean you need to include the equivalent of mana cards to your deck?

Luke: There are 3 types of resources (mental, physical, and energy) as well as wilds, and here’s the other kind of spicy choice you’ll be making each turn; every card can be discarded for the energy it provides to pay for another card. That means that you’re always pressured to toss powerful cards to get other effects to trigger or to build a hand of cards in hopes of pulling into the right cards to pay for the absurdly expensive Avengers Mansion or Nick Fury and reap the benefits. It’s a smart way of getting around an issue a lot of CCGs and LCGs have faced in the past while also forcing the player to make hard decisions each turn, keeping the game fresh and tense.

How resourceful of them.

Phil: So, walk me through a turn.

Luke: At the start of each turn, you’ll have a fresh hand of 6 cards or less (depending on which side your hero is starting their turn on), and you’ll be able to take as many actions as you’d like in any order. Actions include:

  • Playing a card by paying its cost.
  • Flipping your hero to their other form (once per turn).
  • Using your hero for a basic effect (attacking, thwarting, or recovering).
  • Using an ally card to attack or thwart.
  • Triggering a card in your play area.

Assuming you are playing with someone else, you can also play cards into their play area or use cards they have out in play with their permission, making for some neat teamwork that is rare to see in these sorts of games.

Once each player has had a full turn to complete all their actions, the villain has their opportunity to wreak havoc. First, they’ll put threat on their main scheme, the ticking time bomb that will end the game if you’re not careful. Then, they’ll attack each hero in their costumed form and scheme against each hero in their civilian form. Finally, each player gets a card off the top of the deck, giving negative effects such as bringing out minions to fight, more plots to foil, or even activate special negative effects specific to your character.

This is getting out of hand– err, I mean, out of antennae.

This loop will continue until either all heroes are dead, the villain’s final plot succeeds, or the heroes are able to take down both forms of the villain, winning the game!

Phil: You know, for as much information as there is to take in, that seems fairly straightforward overall.

Luke: Once you’ve played through a turn or two, it’s like second nature, and you’ll find yourself wanting to play again and again, trying out all the different villain and henchman combinations, seeing how they fair at higher difficulties, and experimenting with the hero decks.

Phil: And it plays well?

Luke: Beyond well. 2-player is neat due to the aforementioned ability to give your teammate useful things and borrow their effects so players always have something to do, but 1-player is where I find this title really sings. With multiple heroes, you can kind of buff out each other’s flaws, and while enemies scale to player count, it can feel a bit easier with more folks. 1-player gives you a challenge worth pursuing, and with so many different challenges to try and how cards will trigger in wildly different ways each game, the same villain can feel just as fresh as your first playthrough.

Phil: Luke… don’t tell me this is one of your favorite games?

Luke: Let’s not get too hasty. It’s certainly one of the best 1-player games I’ve played in a very long time, and a fantastic 2-player game as well, but we’ll have to wait and see how good it is until more content is released for it. As much as this is a complete package, the deck-building could use a bigger card pool and more variability of heroes and villains is never a bad thing.

Phil: Anything else that rubs you the wrong way?

Luke: Due to the number of small rules at work, I’m still finding little things here and there that I’ve realized I’ve been screwing up, which speaks to the volume of stuff that can be found on individual cards. Certain enemy symbols are hard to remember and track, it can be easy to forget steps of your upkeep in the process of composing your extravagant, Beautiful Mind– level plan, and tokens can inadvertently cover key text that you needed to recall.

Phil: Okay, well this article already feels like a marathon, so why don’t you sum things up.

Avengers, assemble!

Luke: Marvel Champions is expensive for what it is, with FFG making off with a king’s ransom due to the popularity of the product they’re making, but for the thoughtful, intense, nuanced system at play, it’s definitely worth investing your time and cash into this. Come January, 3 new expansions are going to be released to give the game a new breath of life and will allow you to customize your game to your liking. With any luck, we’ll be covering that content down the road, but for now, this is a must-have for me and will be staying in my collection.

Gugong: Ringing in the Gu-d Times

  • Designer: Andreas Steding
  • Artist: Andreas Resch and Noah Adelman
  • Publisher: Game Brewer
  • Kickstarted in 2018, Released in 2019

Phil: Okay Luke, what the heck is this game and why does it sound like I have something unmentionable stuck to my ceremonial gong.

Luke: Strap in, bud, because while Gugong works hard to disguise itself as a dry euro, this game of worker-placement makes a statement about some of the creative decisions that can make even the most tired of mechanics feel refreshing.

Phil: I’m listening.

Luke: In Gugong, players are trying to impress the Emperor by getting all his chores done through the use of ol’ fashioned government corruption.

The Emperor awaits.

Phil: Soooooooo the same as nearly every Chinese-themed game ever.

Luke: Basically. There is some historical context provided, but in my experience, it doesn’t resonate with the gameplay enough to be worth bringing up.

Phil: So then why did you bring it up exactly?

Luke: It’s at least worth noting that there’s a reason for the aesthetics and ideas at play, and the mechanics, in theory, match up well enough with the actions being done, it just isn’t something that players will be overly aware of as they participate in the head-splitting puzzles at hand.

Phil: Puzzles, you say? Now you have my attention.

Luke: I thought I might, but first! Let’s talk about how players win. After 4 rounds, players will check and see whether or not they have impressed the Emperor thoroughly enough to be declared… the rulebook doesn’t make it clear, but you win, and that’s what matters, right? You’ll score points based on different thresholds you meet over the course of the game, any end-game goals you bought in to, how quickly you ran up the steps for your lunch date with the Emperor, and how many of these delicious olives you brought him to snack on.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmm, olives.

Phil: … Those are pieces of jade.

Luke: Oh yeah? Then why do they taste so good?

Phil: Probably because you seasoned them first.

Luke: Like any good chef should.

Phil: Enough of this faffing about, get to the game already!

Luke: At the start of the game, players will receive a set of pre-selected cards, depending on the player order, and a set of cards will be randomly distributed to the 7 action spaces on the board. These cards are essentially your workers that you’ll be sending all over the kingdom to get down to business, BUT you’ll need to send them with the right bribes for the job.

Phil: So, what, you need certain item cards to do certain actions?

Luke: Not exactly; each card has a number value which represents its persuasiveness. In order to take an action, you need to swap the card that’s currently on that space for a card that is valued higher. The harder the card is to place, such as a 2 or 3, the more likely it will give you bonus actions for using it.

The numerous possibilities.

Phil: But what about a 1? Surely you can’t use those anywhere.

Luke: Actually, 1’s are the only thing that can dethrone the mighty 9’s, making them a fairly powerful tool given the right timing and planning.

Phil: Ah, interesting. But surely players will find themselves in a pickle where none of their cards can legally be placed anywhere.

Luke: Sure, that can happen, but if you’re planning for it, you can slip your way around this. You may always spend two servants (the primary currency of the game) or discard a 2nd card to your personal discard pile in order to use any action, regardless of what card is currently present there.

Phil: Okay, so you have some flexibility there… but why a personal discard pile?

Luke: Whenever you take an action, you place the card that was previously in that location in your personal discard pile, which will become your hand of cards next round. So not only are you planning out your actions for this turn but what actions you will potentially have access to next round.

The sheer amount of iconography can feel overwhelming at times.

Phil: Oh jee-

Luke: Oh, that’s not all. At the start of each round, 3 dice are rolled, showing a random assortment of numbers. If you have any of those numbers present in your discard pile at the end of the round, you’ll get extra servants for the next round, and if you have the most cards that match these numbers, you’ll get bonus points and progress on one of the main actions of the game.

Phil: That… that’s a lot.

Luke: It is, and we haven’t even gotten to the 7 actions you can take in the game.

Phil: Sounds like somebody’s slacking.

Luke: Well hold on, there’s still one more thing to cover. Most actions have both a standard version, which costs you nothing extra to use and a premium version, which costs 1 or 2 servants to get a little something extra out of it. Servants are a pretty scant resource, to using these to your advantage will differentiate a good player from a truly efficient government employee.

Phil: Okay, I think I get the idea.

Luke: Good, because the 1st of the 7 actions we’ll be covering is the Palace of Heavenly Purity, and we don’t want to be late. If you don’t get your player piece to the top of this track by the end of the game, you automatically lose, meaning that even though all you’re doing is moving a pawn forward 8 times over the course of the game, it can be one of the tensest elements at play.

Next, let’s talk about Travelling. Everyone likes a good horse ride, but where you’re going can make all the difference. Each space along the Travel track holds different bonus tokens that will give you extra resources or buffs that will help you out on the various other tracks. Additionally, spent tokens can be spent again for bonus resources, assuming you collect enough of them.

Horse riding never looked so pastel.

By itself, the Intrigue track does very little for you; if you’re the first one to take the standard action in a round, you’ll get the 1st player marker, and if you’re higher on the track than any other players, you win ties against them.

This is where the Great Wall comes in. Players will add their servants to the wall like fleshy bricks waiting to support your lofty goals until the track fills up. Whoever has sacrificed the most servants will earn 3 points and move up a space on the Palace of Heavenly Purity track before removing their tokens. Then, as long as you have a token on the wall, including the winning player, each player can spend their Intrigue to get extra servants, jade, or even change the die-faces that will score at the end of the round to different numbers.

Speaking of jade, players can always head down to the jade shop to buy some of those delicious green gems. The earlier you go, the better the deal you get, so grab ‘em while they’re still cheap!

At the Grand Canal, servants will be sent down the river to do menial tasks for you, but you’ll need to take the time to fill your boat to capacity (3 servants) before reaping any rewards. Players can get extra points, extra actions, or a double-servant token, but it’ll take a significant amount of time and actions, which will make you question whether or not it was worth it.

Finally, Decrees will either provide you with extra buffs over the course of the game or end-game goals to reach for. Like the jade shop, the first player to buy into a decree will get it cheap whereas others will have to pay extra for the benefit.

Don’t you even think about encroaching on my decrees.

Phil: Sounds like a lot.

Luke: It is, especially considering you’re balancing your cards you have to play this round, what cards you’ll have next round, how many servants you have to spend, and what actions you need to take if you have a chance in hell at winning, placing this squarely in the medium-to-heavy-weight range of games. While some players will have no trouble picking this up, others will be frozen by the sheer volume of knowledge needed to play.

Phil: But the question is, is it worth it?

Luke: Well, from a 2-player perspective, this game can actually be a ton of fun. The more players you add to a game like this, the more waiting, random variables, waiting, analysis paralysis, and… look, I just don’t like waiting for my next turn, okay? But with only 2 players, turns are snappy, and you can get in a rhythm where you and your opponent are placing cards one after the other, boom, Boom, BOOM, until suddenly someone takes your play, and there’s a moment of, “GAH, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?” before you quietly ponder for a few minutes before getting back into that same beat.

And for advanced players, you can start keeping track of what cards your opponent is taking so next round you know what numbers they have and can start planning around what actions they could feasibly do, making for an intense head-to-head competition.

Phil: Damn, sounds like a great time.

Luke: It is, for the first few plays anyway. One of the core issues I have with Gugong is that certain actions feel almost mandatory to do each game, even when they’re not. Obviously the Palace of Heavenly Purity is required, but getting a bunch of jade, getting at least 1 end-game Decree, getting the right cards for the end round scoring, and getting an extra action card from the Great Canal feels almost mandatory, and while I’ve seen people win using their hand of 4 cards, that’s usually because they spent their resources on extra decrees or jade. While the card placements for the start of the game are different, the things you do in the game rarely change drastically, making for little variability game to game beyond what bonus tokens come out on the Travel track.

The race is on.

Phil: But how important is variability really?

Luke: If you play this once or twice a year, not that important, but for me, who tries to play each game in his collection once a month, this lack of variety leaves me wanting something more with each game I play. Not only that, but this is certainly a game that benefits the most experienced player. The more you play, the more clearly you know exactly what to do in a given circumstance.

Phil: But isn’t that any game?

Luke: Sure, but in a heavier euro like this, where you can see that you’ve lost an hour and a half in advance, that becomes a much bigger issue than if I’m doing poorly in a quick game of Rolling America or Queendomino.

Phil: Fair point. But how does the solo mode pan out?

Luke: Pretty poorly, unfortunately. While the game for the player is basically the same, figuring out what the AI will do each turn can be a bit of a chore, and you’ll likely have to glance through the rulebook 4 or 5 times per game just to clarify some finer points. The AI is no push-over, which is nice, but it almost feels unfair, with the opponent often getting scores above any I’ve seen a human player get. You can try to play around its moves, but its actions are dictated by a sizable deck that resets midway through the game, making it rather hard to predict what it could possibly do.

Don’t believe the ominous AI; he’s a cheat and a liar, and I think he spit in my food once.

Phil: So I guess this one’s a bust, huh?

Luke: Not necessarily. While I can’t say I’ve enjoyed the solo mode, Gugong as a 2-player experience is a blast if you have the right person to face off with. It creates an almost chess-like feeling of outmaneuvering your opponent for the right card or blocking an action space with a high-value card just in the nick of time, and the complexity is eased by the smaller number of players sitting around the time. I’d say if you pulled this title out once every 4 months or so, this would make a great addition to your collection of 2-player titles.