Boardgaming in 2020: the year of the, uh, post-minis era? We can only hope!

Slow week for new board games:

Dungeon Drop is a kickstarter that just came in today.

Here’s how bad the graphic design is:


Here are the front of the cards with the empire symbols clearly shown. The circular icons are also shown on the above player sheet. Why couldn’t the backs of the cards have these?!!!

Now here are the card backs. Quick, try to pick out which match up to which icon above, in the middle of a game, from across the table, while being held in someone’s hand.

Hold your finger out so that it’s covering up the grass on the “green” card (which is how it’s going to look during a game when someone is holding it). Can you still tell it’s supposed to be green and not blue?

How much trouble would it have been to stick the icon on the back? The same icon they put on the front! Or at least a colored border!

The red circular icon has a black eagle. The “red” card shows a tiny gold eagle (which is half a centimeter large on the card).

Look at the horse and lion circle icons. Pale yellow on the edge with brown center, and vice versa. The lion flag shown on the “brown” card is the inverse of the color scheme on its circle icon, which makes it the same as the horse circular icon, and how are you supposed to tell that’s a horse or lion on the flag from across the table? How are you even supposed to tell if brown or yellow is the dominant color on that card?

The only visual clue on the Horse empire card is that there is a person riding a horse. How is that supposed to stand out in a fantasy warfare game??? There’s a guy prominently riding on horse on the “Elephant empire” card too. You’re supposed to pick out the small blurry elephant in the background (again, from across the table). Maybe go by the tusks shown in their circular icon? Except they’re not sticking out like the elephant; they’re crossed and look more like (musical) horns than tusks. They had ONE JOB to distinguish the card as the Elephant empire instead of the Horse, and they made a horse the most prominent animal on it…

Here’s the board. Try to spot the towers without leaning in and squinting (the dark brown towers, not the little tan huts)

You probably spotted the one in the central desert and the top snow, right? How about the one in the 6 o’clock position bordering the desert? Or the 3 o’clock canyons? Or in the center hilly red area? Those are now outlined with white paint on my board.

All of these issues were run into within minutes by the THREE separate groups I played with. How in the world was this not caught in testing? The only thing I can think of is that they just used the same small core group of testers throughout the entire process who were so familiar with it that it wasn’t an issue. Not once did they bring in fresh sets of eyes to see how it fared with new players.

Clinic arrived. It looks awesome and quite the upgrade from the original. That said, my copy was filled with all sorts of mis cut wood pieces and tokens. I emailed and Alban responded back in under 5 minutes (seriously) and asked for photos. A few days later I sent him some and he responded again in under 5 minutes to fix the problem. I know it’s been said before but board game customer support and community is the best. I wish everything was so easy to fix.

Can someone tell me the difference between Vinhos and Viticulture. I like and own Vinhos, but Viticulture just doesn’t look very exciting to me and I’m wondering what I’m missing?

I’ve never played Vinhos so I don’t know! Viticulture is a reasonably good (but fairly standard) worker placement game. Probably the biggest difference from other worker placement games is that actions are broken up in to “seasons” (planting grapes in spring, harvesting in fall, that kind of thing), and you have to decide how many of your workers to keep in reserve from earlier seasons to use in later seasons. It also has a friendly theme that you are obviously already familiar with :)

The biggest bonus to Viticulture is the expansion, which adds a lot of mini-modules that you can mix and match to get very different games. The downside is that, if it’s a game that only comes out once in a while, you won’t remember what they all do and will have a hard time deciding which ones to include in any given play. But if it’s a game you play on the regular, it’s good to have all the options to keep it fresh.

They aren’t that similar other than theme, and even that feels quite different. Vinhos is a game about the modern wine market, managing who you’re selling to, hiring experts and competing in wine competitions. Viticulture is more just a wine making game where you can fulfill orders of wines at specific values so you can get points. It’s got more of a standard Euro farming feel.

I don’t like Viticulture, but quite like Vinhos (which seems worth stating before describing them). I think if you’re looking for a straight-forward worker placement game with the same complexity as Lords of Waterdeep, something you can play with people who don’t game a lot, Viticulture is a better wine-themed game for you. But I think that’s all you’re missing, and would personally much rather play Vinhos if I could get it to the table.

I backed Dungeon Drop on Kickstarter and do not like it at all =(

The colors are terrible for those of us with color deficiencies. If you know long enough in advance that you have to put a warning in the manual you know long enough in advance to fix it…

That’s another thing about War of Whispers. We had all those issues with the graphic design coming from a bunch of people with zero color blindness. God help anyone who does.

Yeah, Viticulture is about running a winery in Tuscany. Vinhos is about being an international wine retailer who buys from wineries across much of Portugal. Viticulture is a light-to-mid weight worker placement with a random element in the Visitor cards, Vinhos is a very heavy Euro with a lot of mostly deterministic mechanisms that you need to be able to think through in advance.

I enjoy both but they’re very different games and for very different audiences.

I played a lot of star realms this weekend with my son and want to buy it for our house. Looking at all the various decks and collections available what would you recommend for 4 our even 6 players?

Another question - we were playing with 50 pts and I couldn’t help but think 100 would be a lot of fun. It just seems like your deck is just shaping up when you get taken out. Lol

I think the latest few decks of Star Realms are the best yet. I’d suggest sticking to them. And no Gambits or Promos. Wish I could tell you what the decks are called but that ain’t my skill set.

In other words, a Vital Lacerda design. :) I really like what that guy does, but I get that sense that I’m not quite smart enough to play his games. I’m on the verge, but not quite there yet.

On an unrelated note, I played this recently:

What a lovely and approachable exercise in using simple rules to express EXTREME asymmetry, Shadow of the Colossus style. Two-player only, but at this point, I’d put it pretty high on my list of two-player games.

Also, it feels like the most random darn thing, but I’ve been on a Uwe Rosenberg kick lately and I think I found my hands-down favorite among the Uwe Rosenberg games I know, which include Agricola, Le Havre, Feast for Odin, Nusfjord, Caverna, and maybe a couple others I’m forgetting.

I’m totally in love with Fields of Arle. It checks so many boxes on a list of things I didn’t even know I wanted. I’ll have more to say in a write-up soon, but this is one of those things I’m sad I didn’t know about when it came out. To think I went five years without knowing how much I’d like Fields of Arle!


Empyreal: Spells & Steam (2020)

Let me start by saying that yes, I Kickstarted this game. My group played this once, last night. The general feeling of the game was favorable, and they looked forward to playing it again. There were additional questions about acquiring the game for people they know, especially since they found out I have an extra copy due to a mistake dealing with my old and new address which lil sis knew about.


There is a lot of back story to the world the characters and the various actions you take during that game that make it sound heavily fantasy themed, and we’ll cover that a bit later but what the basic idea is you have a company the works with trains, builds tracks and delivers goods.


It’s actually not that bad but like most Kickstarter Games (KS) I find them lacking. It’s problem for other games too but it seems especially prone to these first run games there. Punching and counting out the components isn’t too bad. If you have the Deluxe version of the game, there is a little more work to it but really it s a pretty nice set-up with instructions on how to get things into the box once you are done:

The trains are kind of the highlight it in this and they represent tracks and your company’s network.

As you can see you can identify them both by color and each is a different shape. I am not especially fond of these trains. They feel… kind of cheap to me, especially the catepillar one (green), and I don’t know, maybe upping the quality and just sticking to color to differentiate them would’ve worked better. It wouldn’t work with their theme though which indicates each company uses a different type of train and some stories about that… the ghost/undead one is interesting to read but… well more on that later.

There is a nice area for the goods you’re trying to deliver:

Seen above is the deluxe version of the goods. There are serviceable cut-outs for the standard version.

The folios for the standard version are flat and work fine, the deluxe version has thicker and really nice ones instead (deluxe below).

It’s on these folio’s that you keep all your peeps, your spellcars (things you can do), and track your ability to deliver with your little pawns.

So these are not generic copy boards either. They’re unique, with base spellcars (actions), printed on them that different from the others. The Captains are typically assigned to these companies, except two wild ones, so there is order in which you assign them.

One of these characters doesn’t have a proper shirt on so I picked him because that seemed as good as reason as other to make a choice. Seriously though, he was a wild captain so at least we cemented that idea a bit for our first play though.

Okay… the map.

Double sided, pretty good quality, and it varies in size dependent on the number of plays. This is a 2-6 player game. That was a big draw for the game… 6 players! You have the big thick borders which makes for easy track placement (trains).

The maps have the city locations printed on them, and you put the cities on those spots. The cities hold the demand cards which makes it easy, with a quick look, to know how many goods a city needs and how many victory points you get for delivering them.

The goods match the the board:

(remember I am showing the deluxe version of the goods)

And in play, it looks like this.

Okay, that was probably way too much info that most would just get from a video but hey, I had the pics and this game excited my group.

Overall Thoughts

So the theme is really nice, the artwork is anime like which some will hate, others love. I like it just fine. My biggest complaint is the theme is it really does’t matter. I mean they sent a nice little art-book with the deluxe with stories. One of my friends read the artbook because she really liked the story but it really didn’t come up in the game. I think this world they chose is tied to some other game I have not heard of nor played, so maybe it means more to people who have.

The board is super busy with all that plastic. Maybe mini people don’t mind that but we did talk about using the standard cardboard cut-out goods next time just to make it easier on the eyes.

The spellcards, captains, other specalists… all this stuff is unique. You can memorize the icons… eventually, but this resulted in a lot of people having to reference the book, a lot, and some of the cards are simply not in there. The specialist choices are really, really important decisions to make, (I chose very badly for one of mine), so they have in the rules a chance to let you end your turn and basically use ever else’s turn to keep making that choice in order not to bring the game to a halt which sounds great on paper but in theory… didn’t work at all. The reason this didn’t work is at any given time we had 2 or so people trying to pick a specialist and needing to review the same stack someone else is AND needing the darn book. BGG is bound to have some pretty reference sheets to print-out eventually, and in the meantime just make copies of several pages to hand out… colored copies.

My game group really, really liked this game though. It kept everyone’s attention for the entirety of the game and stimulated strategy discussions since we know playing a different company with different spellcars and different specialists would cause shifting of your strategy which will keep things from being stale. In terms of balance, no idea… yet.

But hey, for now my groups loves it and we’re finally playing a game in the year it was released.

You could handle Vinhos. It’s not terribly difficult. Much easier to play than most of his games.

I was so on the fence with this. I do wan to try it. Glad your group liked it. It looks awesome.

I searched a bit more and found the rules on the star realms site (here for the curious) and decided to get the Frontiers version. It’s allows up to 4 players + coop and solo play which I find appealing.

This is such a great game. Easy to teach and learn, quick to play.

I agree. The only two Lacerda games I can wrap my head around are Vinhos and Kanban. For whatever reason, they feel a lot more straightforward than his other designs where my mind somehow gets wrapped up so tight I get lost trying to plan a single turn.

They all seem pretty on par to me except for maybe Escape Plan, which was pitched as being relatively entry level (for Lacerda). Vinhos definitely doesn’t seem easier, if anything the reverse.

Really? That’s interesting.
I find Escape plan so light in comparison to Gallerist or Lisboa.
In terms of difficulty to teach I would say:

On Mars
Actually not a difficult game to play once you’ve played a game or 2, but lots of little rules you have to teach and wrap your head around. Still debating if this is a keeper or not.

Lisboa This one is a beast if you’ve never played one of his games, but having played the Gallerist there are a lot of similar mechanics. I also think it’s arguably his best game. It’s not a game that comes out often enough, but it really is a masterpiece game game.

The trickle down of actions makes this a “difficult” game but again after a game or two it’s not bad. My group thinks the game is broken. If you take one of the special vips (don’t remember the color) you just have so much more money than everyone else you can’t be stopped. We’ve asked about it on BGG but not sure it was ever really addressed.

Been a while since I’ve played this (so might be below Kanban) and I have not played the newest version, but I remember this being hard to teach for some reason. I really want to play/ get the new version. The first edition was great but we ran into a problem at 5 players where you got to a point that no one wanted to take an action because it was just setting up the next player to score a bunch of points. I believe they have addressed this in the new version limiting the player count and some other updates, but I can’t confirm

Kanban worker placement and the start of his trickle down actions. Probably my favorite of his games and yes I’m backing the 2nd edition. It just looks so good.

pretty straight forward worker placement, the original edition has a loan mechanic that could be it’s own game. Really enjoy this one.

Escape Plan
This to me is his lightest game (still a lot going on) comparatively. Pretty much a race game where you want to impede the other players

Yes, Fields of Arle is absolutely great. It fills a rare spot of a good Euro/worker placement game that is expressly designed for two, and it shows.

I’m looking forward to Tom showing me this. I don’t play a lot of 2 player games so I didn’t purchase this, but I’ve heard nothing but good things. The one question I have is how is this different than playing Agricola, Caverna 2 player?