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Tabletop Games Blog

A Games and Hobbies podcast
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If you like tabletop games, then this blog will give you some food for thought and an opportunity to discuss hot topics. The podcast features all blog articles in audio format for your convenience.

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Recent Episodes

Near and Far: Amber Mines (Saturday Review)
  Release Date: 2018 Players: 2-4 Designer: Ryan Laukat Length:  60-120 minutes Artist: Ryan Laukat Age: 10+ Publisher: Red Raven Games Complexity: 2.5 / 5 In the world of Arzium, groups of brave adventurers travel from town to town, where they load up on supplies and pack animals and recruit new members, who are willing to join them on the long journey, as they look for a lost city, called Last Ruin, where legend says lies a powerful artefact that will fulfil the finder’s innermost wishes. It is time for you to add your name to the list of famous explorers, venture into the wild to collect valuable and useful items, meet new people, return to town to work for money and food, travel through abandoned mines and do what is needed to successfully complete the journey. Near and Far: Amber Mines by Red Raven Games allows you to become a hero, if you can compete with your fellow bands of explorers and come out ahead. As the successor to Above and Below, Near and Far has continued to give players the chance to explore a new and mysterious world, where they will encounter other creatures and have to make decisions to prove themselves worthy. You continue to recruit adventurers to your group, but exploring has now been expanded into its own map, where you have to decide which route to take to reach the next encounter. You are only able to go so far, until you buy pack animals or otherwise give you more movement steps, so you can build camps along the route, which other players can use to allow them to go further. Along the way, you will encounter threats, which will grow stronger as the game progresses, so you have to ensure your party has enough swords to fight them off. So unlike in Above and Below, where you simply decide to go exploring, you now have to deal with the logistics of your party actually travelling out onto the map, which creates a whole mini-game within the game. Encounters are peppered around the map, and often hotly contested, so there is no guarantee you will get there before your opponents. It feels very much like expeditions in films like Indiana Jones, where you rush to be the first to reach the goal, while your enemies compete for the prize. There are a lot of differences between Above and Below and Near and Far, which I won’t go into here, because I want to focus on the expansion Amber Mines. Let me just say that Near and Far is certainly quite a different game to Above and Below, even though if you played the latter, you will feel very much at home in the former. Both are set in the same world, and both share many of the same concepts and mechanisms, dice rolling for encounter resolution being one of them. The expansion to Near and Far, Amber Mines, really changes the base game and is well worth the investment, at least if you have played Near and Far and liked it, but want something more. The main difference, in my view, is that the mine, which is relatively boring in Near and Far, has now been replaced with something much more exciting. You can now explore the Amber Mines, which is basically a stack of cards, which you lay out as you explore the mine. The cards are shuffled for every game, so the mines will be different every time. It offers an alternative to exploring the main map, except that you won’t find any encounters in the Amber Mines. so you will still have to go out exploring the main map too, or you will lose out on valuable bonuses and the ability to get new talents at the beginning of the next game. Another addition is magic. Now you can move up a magic track and get spells as you reach certain points, which you can use at any time, and which give you benefits similar to the treasure cards that you can collect in the base game. Spells are exhausted when used, and you will have to reset them by visiting the mystic’s hut, but they are quite powerful, so well worth going for. You will also get end of game points if you are the highest on the magic track. There are a few other changes in Amber Mines, which refine some of the gameplay and make hearts a bit more important in the game. You also get more threats and adventurers, but overall it’s the new mines and the magic and spells that really take the base game to the next level. They are worth the investment alone. So if you have played Near and Far and enjoy it, but feel you want to add some more, then take a closer look at Amber Mines. You will, of course, need the base game to play the expansion, but together they create a new playing experience. If you like this article, please like it and subscribe to this blog or the podcast. It would help me a great deal. It would be even better if you also tell your friends about them. If you like this blog, my videos, podcasts or my other work, please also consider supporting me on Patreon. Even the smallest pledge is highly appreciated: https://www.patreon.com/tabletopgamesblog If you prefer, you can buy me a coffee via Ko-Fi. I’ll post a photo of it on my Twitter feed so you can share it with your friends: https://ko-fi.com/tabletopgamesblog Thank you! Transparency Facts I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way. A friend of mine bought a copy of the game and expansion. At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind. Podcast Review https://tabletopgamesblog413845891.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/near-and-far-amber-mines-saturday-review-podcast.wav Music: Epic Emotional by AShamaluevMusic YouTube Podcast You can also listen to this review on YouTube. Links Near and Far: Amber Mines: https://redravengames.squarespace.com/nearandfar Above and Below: https://redravengames.squarespace.com/above-and-below Red Raven Games: https://redravengames.squarespace.com/
Count me out
Games change when played with different numbers of players. I think many of us will have found that games that are said to work for two or more players often are quite a different experience when played with two versus more players. Some games are said to work with a larger number of players, but really work best with a specific number. Games, where you form teams, are often like that, working best with an even number of people, even though they’re said to also work with odd numbers. I discussed many of these points in my article Group mentality, so this time I want to focus on some specific issues. Let’s start with solo versions of games. I explicitly exclude solo-only games, because these were designed to be for a single player, and I want to look at games that are designed for two or more people, but also have a solo variant. There are some really good examples of games that offer a well designed and thought out solo version. Often these games come with some sort of AI, which simulates the opponent. If done well, these can give you a real sense of playing against another player. I particularly like the Automa implementation by Automa Factory, as used in Scythe or Tapestry by Stonemaier Games, which emulates a real player, except that that player can break some of the rules of the game. Of course, it would be even more amazing if a solo variant offered an opponent that follows the rules, yet is still tough to beat – but I’m not sure how realistic this is without some sort of technological support. Next, we should look at two-player versions of games. Again, I’m excluding two-player only games, as these were specifically designed for that player count and should work well. Games that were designed for three, four or more players, but also offer the option to be played with two, are a mixed bag unfortunately. Some games do it really well. For those games, you get virtually the same experience with two players as you do with more players, but there are many others where the two-player version creates a completely different experience, often one that is less enjoyable. Very much like for solo versions of games, two-player versions sometimes introduce an artificial opponent, and these can be great, or a bit lacklustre. Many games require a different setup for a two-player game, which often requires you to remove cards, block off action spaces or reduce the size of the map. That can be absolutely fine, but it can also be a bit disappointing. Yet, it’s much better than games that require no changes in setup, with maybe only a handful of exceptions. The problem is that playing a game, that works well for three or four players, with only two often makes the game feel too long and with too little player interaction. A bit of tightening up of the gameplay for two players is usually the best solution. In my view, exceptions to the rule include Wingspan by Stonemaier Games, where it really makes no difference to gameplay whether you play it with two, three, four or even five players. The setup is exactly the same, and the game feels just the same. The balance is just right. When you move up to three-player games, you find most games work absolutely fine, provided they can be played at the player count of course. It feels no different to playing with four or more players. Setup is usually no different either. The only issue with three-player games can be player interaction. In these situations, when player A beats up player B, then player C is the only one who benefits, at least in most scenarios. Very few games with player interaction address this issue with three players. The only exception from my personal experience is Rising Sun by CMON. In this game, the alliance mechanism combined with the betrayal action balances out the effect of players ganging up on each other. In fact, being the player who is not part of an alliance can benefit a lot and really turn it into an advantage. Finally, let’s look at playing games at higher player counts than recommended. There are many games that physically don’t allow this to happen, due to the limitation of the components, but some games either come with enough pieces to be played with more players than listed on the box, or you can buy expansions that offer additional factions or player pieces, or you can buy two copies of the same game to allow you to play it with more people. A lot of roll-and-writes can easily be played with more people than it says on the box. In fact, a lot of these games actually say you can play them with 100 people, some give an even higher number. As long as you have enough pens or pencils, and enough copies of the sheets to write on, it makes no difference to the gameplay whether you play it with 4 or 400. Some card games can also easily be played with more players than recommended. I immediately think of The Mind by Coiledspring Games. Of course, there is a sensible limit for this game, given it comes with 100 cards. Play it with much more than 10 players, and it will start to be a bit less interesting. It’s recommended for two to four players, but you can easily play it with five, six or seven players. I’m sure I’ve seen it played with eight players before without any problem. Other games can also be played with more. I’ve never tried it, but in theory Scythe or Rising Sun could be played with more, as long as you have the expansions that give you extra factions. Wingspan is also easily played with more, I would think, as long as you have extra player boards and action cubes. Some games even say that you can play them with more players, as long as you buy a second copy. Star Realms by White Wizard Games is a classic example. A single pack supports two players, two packs can be played with four, and three packs with six. That is the official limit, but again there is no reason why you couldn’t buy more packs to increase the player count even further. So it is interesting to see how games deal with player counts, and how some scale up really well from single to multiple players, while others don’t fare so well and are really best at a specific player count and don’t work so well when scaled down. How about you? Have you come across games that work really well for specific player counts and just aren’t fun when played with different numbers of people? What games work really well at a wide range of player counts? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear your experience with different games. If you like this article, please like it and subscribe to this blog or the podcast. It would help me a great deal. It would be even better if you also tell your friends about them. If you like this blog, my videos, podcasts or my other work, please also consider supporting me on Patreon. Even the smallest pledge is highly appreciated: https://www.patreon.com/tabletopgamesblog If you prefer, you can buy me a coffee via Ko-Fi. I’ll post a photo of it on my Twitter feed so you can share it with your friends: https://ko-fi.com/tabletopgamesblog Thank you! Audio Version https://tabletopgamesblog413845891.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/count-me-out-topic-discussion.wav“][/audio] Music: Chill by Nina Mazeo YouTube Podcast You can also listen to this review on YouTube. Links Automa Factory: http://www.automafactory.com/ Scythe Saturday Review: https://tabletopgamesblog.com/2019/01/19/scythe/ Tapestry: https://stonemaiergames.com/games/tapestry/ Stonemaier Games: https://stonemaiergames.com/ Wingspan Saturday Review: https://tabletopgamesblog.com/2019/03/16/wingspan/ Rising Sun: https://cmon.com/product/rising-sun/rising-sun CMON: https://cmon.com/ The Mind Saturday Review: https://tabletopgamesblog.com/2019/01/05/the-mind/ Coiledspring Games: https://coiledspring.co.uk/ Star Realms: https://www.starrealms.com/ White Wizard Games: https://www.whitewizardgames.com/
Kodama: The Tree Spirits (Saturday Review)
  Release Date: 2016 Players: 2-5 Designer: Daniel Solis Length:  30-45 minutes Artist: Scott Hartman, Kwanchai Moriya, Mirko Suzuki Age: 10+ Publisher: Action Phase Games Complexity: 1.5 / 5 In a world where every tree is inhabited by its own gentle and benign spirit, it is your important task to ensure that every sapling grows strong and big, and offers a home for as many small creatures and plants as possible, thereby creating harmony and balance in the forest. If you can work in harmony with the seasons and nurture the worms, fireflies, flowers and mushrooms that grow on the tree that you have been tasked to look after, you will come out as the best caretaker and will be generously rewarded with health and happiness by the tree spirit, the kodama, that inhabits your tree. It is this work that you carry out in Kodama: The Tree Spirits by Action Phase Games. Here is a game that is gentle, peaceful, almost zen, and certainly very beautiful to look at. As soon as you see the box, you know what to expect. The art by Kwanchai Moriya is just gorgeous. It’s cartoony and cute, without being tacky or overdone. You can immediately see that this game is friendly and enjoyable, and as you start to play it, your expectations are met. Your main focus is on growing your tree and making your kodama happy. Every time you play a branch card, you try and make it neatly fit your tree, which is very satisfying and makes you feel rather creative. Like a gardener would graft a tree onto suitable rootstock, you add branches to your tree, and when you successfully extend the colony of plants or creatures living on your tree, you get a lot of enjoyment, akin to the pride a gardener will feel when a graft has successfully taken. In fact, the whole game is very organic and puts you in touch with nature. It is very calming, almost zen-like. There is also very little player interaction, even though it is competitive and everyone draws branch cards from a central pool of cards. It is possible to take the branch that would give your opponents the most points, but most of the time you’re better off focussing on what you need, rather than ruining other players’ plans. Even when a player does try to spoil it for you, you still get a huge feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction from placing your branches onto your tree. Seeing your tree grow and the animals and plants inhabit the newly created living space is much more fun than worrying about how many points you get from what card. In fact, I have seen very competitive players stop worrying about points and instead start focussing on making their kodama happy. Of course, ultimately the game is about finding the best branch that gives you the most points, while also fulfilling your personal objectives and gaining as much benefit from the seasonal bonuses as possible. If you’re good at 2D puzzles, then you’ll be good at playing Kodama: The Tree Spirits. The game does remind me of The Hanging Gardens by Hans im Glück, in that you’re trying to select the card from a central offer row that gives you the most points. However, the art and the ability to place cards anywhere, in any orientation, as long as the branch of the new card touches a branch on the tree, makes Kodama a lot more satisfying and almost tactile. It’s also an easy game to teach and play, ideal for younger players and also great as a gateway game. Its length makes it also an option for a game to finish off a games night. It’s a real allrounder in my view and well worth a closer look. It comes in a small box, so won’t take up much room on your game shelf – or in your cupboard. If you like this article, please like it and subscribe to this blog or the podcast. It would help me a great deal. It would be even better if you also tell your friends about them. If you like this blog, my videos, podcasts or my other work, please also consider supporting me on Patreon. Even the smallest pledge is highly appreciated: https://www.patreon.com/tabletopgamesblog If you prefer, you can buy me a coffee via Ko-Fi. I’ll post a photo of it on my Twitter feed so you can share it with your friends: https://ko-fi.com/tabletopgamesblog Thank you! Transparency Facts I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way. I backed the book on Kickstarter and paid for it myself. At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind. Podcast Review https://tabletopgamesblog413845891.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/kodama-the-tree-spirits-saturday-review.wav Music: Relaxing Instrumental Music for sleeping 523 Hz by Scuspin YouTube Podcast You can also listen to this review on YouTube. Links Kodama: The Tree Spirits: https://www.actionphasegames.com/pages/kodama-the-tree-spirits Action Phase Games: https://www.actionphasegames.com/ The Hanging Gardens Saturday Review: https://tabletopgamesblog.com/2019/05/25/the-hanging-gardens/ Hans im Glück: https://www.hans-im-glueck.de/en
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Started
Dec 1st, 2018
Latest Episode
Sep 17th, 2019
Release Period
Weekly
No. of Episodes
39
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