Board Game Review – 6 Games, and 2 Playtests


Hello, Tangerines! This week, we’re going to do something a little different. Most of this post will be spent reviewing outside board games I had the pleasure of playing recently. At the end, there will be info about our upcoming RPG, “Dungeon Tours Limited.”

TCEP 2017

In September, I had a pleasure to returning to the tiny board game convention, TCEP. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t be surprised; it has a small but loyal group of followers, mostly friends, who’ve been meeting annual for 24 years start. “TCEP” actually stands for Tad and Craig’s Excellent Party; it didn’t start as a con, but as a board game party that grew too big for a single house! If you can, I recommend you come next year. Lots of awesome games, home-baked bread, and prizes (not dealers room or long lines).

Here are some of the games I got to play, and to run:

  • Century: Spice Road
  • Kitty Paw
  • Gravwell
  • 5 Minute Dungeon
  • Custom Heroes
  • Shadowrun: Crossfire


Century: Spice Road


Photo courtesy of Plan B Games, used without permission

Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi

Publisher: Plan B Games

2-5 Players

Description: A very cleverly built resource / engine game* themed around the medieval spice roads.

*Engine Game – a game that focuses on building powerful, repeatable combos, or gathering cards that combine several steps into one to achieve maximum efficiency.

It is definitely a “Eurogame,” in that the mechanics are only loosely tied to the setting – the game could easily be about trading company stocks or asteroids without any significant change. Similarly, like many Eurogames, there is very little player interaction (at first glance, it seems like no interaction at all, but it’s there – it’s just very subtle).

Reaction: I thoroughly enjoyed this; it is one of those “minutes to learn, years to master” kind of games, which is particularly rare for Eurogames. Each player’s turn moves quickly. There are enough choices to allow a variance in strategy, but not so many that a player gets decision paralysis. The art on the cards is gorgeous (and as a plus, it has lots of colorful dice cubes… I love bits.) In addition, it’s nice to see a peaceful game set in a non-European country.

Side note: I’ve heard it described as “Splendor made better” – personally, I’ve never played Splendor, so I cannot compare.

Replayability: I suspect it is very high. However, while it can be played with 2-5 players, it feels like a game that needs at 3-5 players to shine, which limits times you can play. Also, it is similar in style to many Eurogames, which can kill the replayability some.

Rating 8 / 10 – Buy it, assuming you don’t already have 10 other games just like it.

Kitty Paw

Designer: Aza Chen


Photo courtesy of GaGa Games, used without permission

Publisher: GaGa Games

Description: In a nutshell, it’s a timed tangram game with a dexterity chaser.

Kitty Paw is a competitive tile game, in which players race to find cat-shaped tiles and place them in a set geometric pattern. The player who accomplishes this first holds up their hand (in a paw) and says “meow.” All other players must stop what they’re doing and touch the winner’s paw. The winning player gets positive points equal to their puzzle’s value; the last player to touch the paw gets a negative point; all other players get nothing. The puzzle deck is tiered, so the puzzles naturally progress from easy to difficult.

Reaction: I happened to play this game amongst close friends of mine, and that seemed the perfect group. It doesn’t feel like a game to try with serious gamers, or strangers with short tempers. Much like the old card game Spoons, dexterity and reflexes have a factor in the game; if a player is slow raising their hand, hearing the winner’s announcement, or reaching their paw, it can mean never winning the game. Similarly, players must race to grab their kitty tiles from the middle of the playing area.

That being said, I did find it enjoyable. It is also easily modified based on the preferences of that group. The difficult puzzles can be removed for younger players. The scoring can be altered, adding points for runners up. I suspect you could even play a solitaire game against a timer, or idly fiddle with the tiles in a timeless solo mode (like you’d play with a tangram).

Let us not neglect the fact that the kitties are adorable.

Replayability: I suspect low. However, it doesn’t take up much room on the shelf, so it’d be easy to keep the “kitty in a corner” and pull it out once in a blue moon.

Rating: 6/10 – For casual, family fun

Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension


Photo courtesy of Cryptozoia, used without permission

Designer: Corey Young

Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment

Description from Board Game Geek:

In Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension, players command spaceships that have been pulled through a black hole, transporting them into a different dimension. With each ship lacking fuel to get home, each player must collect basic elements from surrounding asteroids, using the gravity of the dimension and what little resources they have in order to reach the warp gate that will take them home. But in this dimension, moving ships will travel towards the nearest object, which is usually another ship, and when those objects are moving either forward or backward, reaching the warp gate isn’t always easy. … When your opponents move in ways you didn’t expect, you won’t always be heading in the direction you thought you would! 

Reaction: Another simple game, but lots of fun. The beauty of it is that the game is very unpredictable, without being random; rather, the cards your opponents play can flip the effect of the cards you play. Similarly, I was impressed by the clever way players get cards every round; instead of being dealt random cards, players draft a face up card, which is packaged with a face-down card. This is a smart simple tweak that likely can be added to many card games.

Replayability: I suspect it’s quite – it takes only 15-20 minutes to play a full game, and most of the people near me were eager to play 2-3 games in a row. The only flaw is that it has a very large board for such a simple game – I wish it was a little more portable.

8/10 – Darn good fun.

5 Minute Dungeon

Designer Connor Reid


Photo courtesy of Kosmos, used without permission

Publisher: KOSMOS

Description: First off, let me say, this game is not for everyone. 5 Minute Dungeon is a cooperative, real time card matching game, based around the theme of a dungeon. Each player has a deck, based around a specific class: warrior, cleric, wizard, etc. The decks have cards with specific symbols, and while every deck has all five symbols, certain decks have certain symbols in higher concentration (i.e. the ranger has more arrow symbols). The dungeon consists of a deck of monsters and obstacles to overcome. Once the timer starts, the players flip the first card of the dungeon deck and play cards to overcome it. The players can talk and reveal their hands, but once a card leaves their hand, they can’t take it back – which means that if two players defeat a monster at the same time, the redundant cards are wasted. If they defeat the dungeon and the final boss monster before time the five minutes run out, they win. If the players run out of time or cards, they lose. Extra dungeons have thicker decks, increasing the difficulty.

Reaction:  If you want proof that humans can improve on a skill in a short time, play several dungeons of this game with the same group. Even though the difficulty increased each dungeon, we managed to beat every level with approximately the same time frame. We were subconsciously getting better at reflex speed.

A common feature or flaw of co-op games is that it can become “one experienced player telling everyone what to do.” In 5 Minute Dungeon, the speed factor helps side-step this problem, but does not eliminate it; commonly, one player might come up with a brilliant plan, but it will fall apart in the rush. Unfortunately, this means that might still be a dominant player telling everyone what to do, but with increasing volume and frustration as players miss or ignore instructions. I know some friends who would love this, and others that would break down under the pressure and/or start yelling at each other.

Replayability: Replayability is my biggest concern. Because it takes only 10 minutes to set up and play, it has great reuse as a “waiting for the game” game. However, the fact that we beat every level in the box within 40 minutes means there’s not much adventure left. The shelf life is extended, thanks to the fact that each character deck has two different character classes (of which, one is female / non-male – thumbs up for being inclusive!). Also, the box has extra room, implying that there might be more classes planned; the monsters, however, are so mechanically similar that additional monsters will not alter the game in any significant way.

As a side note, another slow-release feature of the game is the clever characters that populate the world. Just like Munchkins or Peasant Buffet, the monsters are humorous and expressive; unlike Munchkins, the players don’t have time to appreciate them mid-game. This makes the game itself less interesting, but spreads the joy of discovery over a longer period.

If you do get it, also recommend downloading the timer app, which has handy warnings and a great group of flavorful voice actors.

Total Rating – 7 / 10 – Convince your friend to buy it!

Shadowrun Crossfire


Photo courtesy of Catalyst Game Labs, used without permission

Designer: Mike Elliott, Rob Heinsoo, Jim Lin, Gregory Marques, Sean McCarthy, Jay Schneider, Rob Watkins

Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs

Here’s the official description from Board Game Geek:

Shadowrun: Crossfire is a cooperative deck-building card game for two to four players set in the gritty, cyberpunk fantasy world of Shadowrun. Play a shadowrunner team and take on tough jobs such as protecting a client who’s marked for death, shooting your way out of downtown when a run goes sour, or facing down a dragon. In each game you’ll improve your deck with a mix of strategies, while earning Karma to give your character cyber upgrades, physical augmentations, magical initiations, weapons training and Edge.

Reaction: A friend of mine hyped this pretty hard. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away – to be fair, I was fatigued when I played. It is a deck-builder co-op, which is something I’ve fascinated about making myself for some time. However, I didn’t find the game had any other breakthrough features. The player decks are relatively generic at the beginning, and cards are added at such a slow rate, that you can play a whole game without feeling like you’ve gained that much of an identity.

Replayability:  This game excels at replayability, namely in that there are multiple missions to pursue, and ways to upgrade your character over time from game to game. The game features blank character mats, with tons of skill stickers for making the character yours. It has a ton of expansions, which is a blessing (for everything but your wallet).

Sidenote: I DARE any American child who grew up in the 80’s-90’s to hear the word “Crossfire” without immediately thinking of the old commercial for the marble-shooting game. I dare you.

Rating 7.5 – Great, if you’re looking for another large investment.

Custom Heroes

Designer: John D. Clair


Photo courtesy of AEG, used without permission

Publisher: AEG

Description: Custom Heroes is a card-crafting trick-taking* game in which plastic cards are added to sleeves to modify the cards already in those sleeves.

*Trick-taking – divided into short rounds, with a highest value card winning the round and removing all cards in play. Common in older games. Custom Heroes is based on the Japanese game called Daifugo, which is like the Western card game known as President or Capitalism.

The players attempt to win rounds by getting rid of their cards as quickly as possible using the classic climbing trick mechanic. e.g. If a player leads with three 4s then the next player must play three of a kind of equal or higher value. When all players pass, the last player to have played cards leads a new trick with whatever card or set of equal cards they want. Go out of cards first for first place, second for second, etc.

However, you also have advancements you can sleeve onto your cards. These may increase or decrease the value of the cards, or even add new abilities such as turning a card into a wild or reversing the direction of the values (i.e. you are now playing lower numbers instead of higher) or making cards count as multiple copies of themselves, etc.

But since all the cards are reshuffled and dealt to start a new round, the changes you made may end up with someone else (and vice versa), and the common distribution of values will begin to change and shift over multiple hands. Thus, a good strategy must factor in not just doing well in the current hand, but also managing your resources (card advancements) over multiple hands and maximizing their impact though well-timed plays.

You earn points and more advancements based on your end of round position. Be the first player to go out each round and gain the most points, but draw fewer new advancements for the next hand. To win a player must first get to 10 points, and then win a hand.

Reaction: This is the second game I’ve played with AEG’s game-changing sleeve technology; I first encountered it in their fantasy deck building game, Mystic Vale. I expected the two games to be quite similar, and was pleasantly surprised to see how unique they are.

As you can see in the above description, Custom Heroes a trick taking game. Let me start by saying:

  1. I love the idea of a trick taking game that lets you alter the cards. (I’m reminded of the Dilbert cartoon, which involved Dogbert cheating at Scrabble by carving his own letters with a wood burner).
  2. I love the idea of a showdown between customizable hero cards with weapon / prop overlays (this includes everything from dramatic lightening effects and weapons, to kittens and cabbages).

Sadly, I don’t think the mechanics of A. mesh with the theme of B. The theme is supposed to be major arena battle between skilled super-human individuals: but they battle by showing up on four or five cards at a time? How does that make sense? Similarly, the art is amazing, but has no sense of scale – one character’s art might look amazing, but they are only a three; trumped by another character with a value of 9 that looks far less impressive.

That being said, I found the game enjoyable- the fact that the customized cards are shuffled and re-dealt every around adds balance to what could otherwise be a game out of control. I could also imagine it being very customizable; use the same card and sleeve system to create a unique fighting card game with new mechanics.

7/10 – Not amazing, but keep an eye out for other Card Crafting System games.

And, now, onto the playtests!

Ravenspurn Abbey

castleThis is a new card game that I haven’t had a chance to talk much about. For that reason, I plan to devout an entire post to it. Nutshell version: it is a simple board game of Gothic mystery and romance. Regarding TCEP in particular, I couldn’t have had a better cross-section of playtesters; different genders, age ranges, and dedication to the hobby. They suggested I add more player interaction; and I can think of just the place to include it!

Dungeon Tours Ltd.

I have had the pleasure of runnimiles_parchment-title-2ng the Dungeon Tours RPG multiple times in the last few years, but I’ve always run it with the same client: Lil’ Lord Fitzroy. I can slip into the foppish noble like a comfy house coat, and can drop into his annoying brogue at the drop of a hat. Of course, he wouldn’t be complete without the twitch-inducing twittering laugh (copied straight from the movie Amadeus.) However, I needed a break from Fitzroy.

This time, I ran a game as a new client: Colonel Bradshaw Quackenbush. This old soldier was anxious for one last taste of the old days, which he’d often expound upon. Of course, you can’t make clients too likable, so I made sure to pepper his anecdotes with openly racist opinions (ex. “It was swarming with greenskins… supposedly you can’t call orcs ‘greenskins’ anymore, but I don’t see why not.”)

The party consisted of a Paladin (who couldn’t lie, but was adept at selective truths), a sneaky hedge mage (with the Wrangler approach set), and a shapeshifting courtesan. There was also a builder (played by a 10-year-old player who dropped out half way).

In addition to testing out the new client, I also got to test out the new rules. For those of you with the Beta test, I’ve removed the differentiation between “real” rooms and “fake rooms,” making the final room process much more streamlined.

Overall, I’d call the whole thing a success.


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