Board Games

Board Game Review: The Quacks of Quedlinburg

The Quacks of Quedlinburg Cover Artwork

Rank: 8.8 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is my first board game review. What I hope to accomplish with these reviews is to introduce you to a new game and help you determine whether the game is a good fit for you. I will consider and rank five criteria: gameplay, design, strategy, originality, and replayability.

The Quacks of Quedlinburg is a board game that I have played many times with my family. This game made my top ten favorite board games for a reason! I will explain why it deserves such a ranking below. But first, a quick description of the game and its features.

Description

The Quacks of Quedlinburg is a Push-Your-Luck game where you play as a quack doctor brewing potions for the market.

You start the game with a pouch of tokens. After the first player draws a card that determines the special scenario for the round, each player simultaneously places tokens in their pot. The tokens have a value on them that determines the number of spaces they progress in the pot.

Most kinds of tokens are helpful, but there is one type of token that is harmful. This token is called a cherrybomb. Each cherrybomb brings the pot closer to exploding.

If the pot explodes, the player has to choose between gaining points for the round or being able to buy new tokens.

The goal is to fill your pot as much as possible without your pot exploding. The player who accumulates the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Gameplay (10 out of 10 stars)

The gameplay is smooth and does not bring up problems. I have tried many combinations of ingredients that had variations in their abilities. Each time, none of the combinations clashed with each other, and each allowed for different strategies.

The game took about 45 minutes each time I played. It does not seem to drag on longer than necessary or end too soon.

The end of each round triggers a series of events whose order is indicated on the main board. If any question of whether it is time to do something arises, the board can be used as a reference rather than flipping through the rulebook.

Scoring is simple. Each round you get the number of points indicated on your pot at the spot directly after where you stop adding ingredients (tokens). At the end of the game, you divide the amount of money you would have received by 5 to buy new tokens and count these as bonus points. Every two rubies you have at the end is worth another two points.

Design (7 out of 10 stars)

Design includes two categories: art and components.

The art of the game is attractive and fits the theme well. While it is not especially remarkable, it does a good job setting the scene. The bright colors add to the sense that what the quack doctors and fortune tellers do is all show.

The components are decently made and consist of cards, boards, tokens, and gems. Most of the components are made of paper or cardboard with the exception of a couple of wooden pieces and the plastic gems.

Strategy (9 out of 10 stars)

Because this is a Push-Your-Luck game, I do not believe it would be fair to give it a lower ranking on strategy just because it involves a lot of chance.

For one thing, you can still have a strategy based on the probability of picking out certain tokens.

For another, the books of each ingredient that explain its ability dictate your strategy, but allow a lot of freedom. Which tokens you buy makes a huge difference.

For example, you may choose to buy more red tokens if the ability of the red tokens that round is to put them aside and then decide whether to use them at the end of this round or next round. If stopping at certain spaces on the pot is part of your strategy, buying more red tokens is an excellent choice.

You might likewise choose to purchase tokens that go more spaces forward, such as a 4-chip, or ones that have more desired abilities.

Furthermore, you may use a riskier strategy or play it safe. Should you place one more tile even though your pot is on the verge of exploding? It’s your call.

If you blow up, do you go for the points or buy more tokens? In this game, it seems like players are always in favor of buying more tokens because that improves your next turn. Part of the reason is that if you fall behind in points, the game gives you an advantage to make it more competitive in the form of rat tails, which allow you to start with your pot partially full. I think making buying the better choice almost all of the time takes away from the strategy, but just slightly.

Originality/Creativity (9 out of 10 stars)

This game has a creative theme. Although potion-making as a theme is not entirely original, making the potion brewers all quack doctors added to the uniqueness.

Using tokens pulled randomly to fill up the track in the pot, and then using the spot directly after for scoring was a great idea for a Push-Your-Luck game. The fact that you could explode if you pushed it too far was also a wise choice.

Also, the rat tails that give losing players an advantage prevent the game from ever feeling like they are too far behind to catch up. I haven’t played any other game that used a system like the rat tails.

Replayability (9 out of 10 stars)

There are so many combinations of ingredient books to use that gameplay can be different every time.

Additionally, the pot can be flipped over for a variation of the game. In the variant, you can trade in your rubies for prizes that give you even more options. I found myself not interested in using the prize track after trying it because it seemed much better to use the rubies to move the starting point where the pot begins to fill up instead.

Overall, its replayability is high.

Links

To learn more: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/244521/quacks-quedlinburg

How to play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcvK6ExuISM

Anime, Music

My Top Ten Favorite Anime Songs

Anime didn’t interest me at all until my sisters insisted on introducing it to me with The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. (Ironically I hate all the music from that anime, but I loved watching the show anyway!)

Since then, I have been an anime fan, regularly trying out new anime and rewatching old ones with family and friends.

The idea for this article came from the feeling of nostalgia I would get when playing anime-themed radio on Pandora. That familiar music made me feel happy, sad, or whatever emotion I associate with the anime.

And I was wondering, what is it that makes some anime music so good? The nostalgia? Or does seeing the anime paired with the music make me appreciate the nuances and skill in the way the song was made?

Either way, anime music is now a regular part of my playlist. Below I have listed my favorite anime counting down from #10 to #1.

At the end of the post, I have included links to the lyrics and the songs. Be sure to follow the links to listen for yourself!

#10 Odd Future by UVERworld

Crunchyroll - Go Beyond, Plus Ultra with "My Hero Academia" Season ...
“Deku” from My Hero Academia

Part of the reason I like anime songs is because of how different they are from the other modern songs I hear everywhere I go, such as on the radio at the store where I work.

That’s because a lot of modern songs have the same rhythm. My dad told me that almost all new songs have a rhythm that matches saying “boots and pants” over and over. Try it sometime.

Odd Future is a song that doesn’t sound like any other song I’ve heard. The song is actually about keeping your ideals in a crazy, unpredictable world, and simultaneously expresses optimism and pessimism at the thought of the future.

I will say that I like the shortened, revised version of Odd Future used for the My Hero Academia intro better than the full version.

#9 Ft. by Funkist

Ft. | Fairy Tail Wiki | Fandom
The Wizards from Fairy Tail

Ft. is a spirited song by the band Funkist about not giving up on your dreams and persevering no matter what.

The first time I heard this song it got me excited for the next segment of Fairy Tail, because it had so much energy put into it. It fit the show so well that it had to make my top ten!

#8 Snow Fairy by Funkist

Kin Owen ] Snow Fairy Cover - Fairy Tail Opening #1 - video ...
Wizards from Fairy Tail

Snow Fairy is another one of my favorites for the anime Fairy Tail. It was fitting that they used a song that references fairies because the guild was named after the mystery surrounding whether or not fairies have tails.

The song is upbeat, optimistic and uses a lot of bright positive imagery. Often, Fairy Tail is light-hearted – despite the frequent drama and tragic moments.

#7 Tsuioku Merry-Go-Round by onelifecrew

FAIRY TAIL MEDLEY] ONELIFECREW - Tsuioku Merry-Go-Round (Fairy ...
Natsu from Fairy Tail

Fairy Tail has so many good songs I just had to include another. This one is one of the first outros of Fairy Tail and was paired with a lot of chibi imagery.

The song is about someone who tried hard to be strong but failed, and is about separation from a loved one.

#6 Red Like Roses Part II by Jeff Williams

Ruby Rose | RWBY Wiki | Fandom
Ruby Rose from RWBY

Okay, a quick disclaimer. Some people consider RWBY to be an anime, some do not. The people who do not consider RWBY an anime generally hold the position that all anime must be from Japan.

However, there is so much overlap in styles now, with western countries exploring traditionally Japanese styles, and Japanese companies exploring traditionally western themes. As a result, the line between what is anime and what is not has been blurred.

Furthermore, RWBY appears on the anime streaming service CrunchyRoll.

Personally, I will refer to RWBY as an American anime. If you disagree, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Red Like Roses Part II is about the tragic loss of a loved one and dealing with grief. It is a fast-paced rock song, and unlike the others in the list, this one is completely in English.

I love the imagery used in this song, such as describing blood as “red like roses.”

While glancing through the comments on Youtube, I found that many people could relate to the songs theme of loss, especially the line: “All the joy that I had known for all my life, was stripped away from me the minute that you died.”

The wonderful thing about the songs from RWBY is that they reveal more about the characters and create depth. They also are just good stand-alone songs even without the anime – the lyrics are relateable for many people even without the context of the show.

#5 Fairy Tail Sad Theme

Ur | Fairy Tail Wiki | Fandom
Ur from Fairy Tail

This song wins the prize for least creative title. It is, however, probably the most iconic Fairy Tail Song. It comes on at all the saddest moments in the anime.

As a result, whenever it comes on, I automatically feel sad. A mark of good music, as well as a mark of good literature, is that it evokes emotions.

This song is the only one on this list that is entirely instrumental.

When I think Fairy Tail, this is the first song that comes to mind.

#4 Brave Song by Aoi Tada

Brave Song FULL VER. - Lyrics and Music by Angel Beats ! arranged ...
Characters from Angel Beats

This song is the outro to the anime Angel Beats. It is about a lonely girl who is struggling to be strong in the face of adversity. It ends with the realization that she will someday be left only with memories of her friends.

The song fits the anime well, which is definitely one of the saddest anime I have ever watched. The song seems to refer to Yuri, who has a tragic backstory that explains the brooding nature of this song.

I find myself randomly humming this song often.

#3 The Day by Porno Graffitti

THE DAY | My Hero Academia Wiki | Fandom
Characters from My Hero Academia

I love the song, and hate the immature band name. The timing of all the parts of the intro with the rhythm of the song is perfect. Every time I listen to the song I can picture the intro easily.

In the song, the day has come that will bring about change. The lyrics suggest the singer is nervous about what decisions to make. The song is intense and energetic, which fits the show well.

When I think of My Hero Academia, this is the first song that comes to mind.

#2 My Soul, Your Beats (Original Version) by Lia

Steam Community :: :: Angel beats
“Angel” from Angel Beats

This song is a more upbeat song about going to ordinary days of school and feeling grateful for those days that were treasured even though they were simple.

I love that it includes the piano and enjoy the increasing pace as the song progresses.

The title is creative and only makes sense if you watch the anime. I won’t spoil anything.

#1 Ichiban no Takaramono (Yui final ver.) by Girls Dead Monster

Hideki Hinata | Angel Beats Wiki | Fandom
Yui and Hinata from Angel Beats

This song is so incredibly sad and happy at the same time. I can’t say much more without spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that without explaining what the song is about. The English translation of the title is “My Most Precious Treasure.”

I fully recommend checking the song out because it is my absolute favorite. I can barely listen to it without tearing up.

Links to Lyrics

Links to Songs

If listening to any of these songs has inspired you to watch the anime they are associated with, here is where they can be found:

My Hero Academia: This show is available on CrunchyRoll (with English subtitles) and Funimation (dubbed).

Fairy Tail: All the episodes are available on CrunchyRoll (with English subtitles and Funimation (dubbed). 48 episodes are available on Netflix (dubbed).

RWBY: All the episodes are available on CrunchyRoll and Amazon Prime.

Angel Beats: All of the episodes are available on CrunchyRoll (with English subtitles) and Netflix (dubbed).

Books

Book Review: “New Kid” by Jerry Craft

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Intro

Let me start by saying this is my first book review. Excluding any reviews or essays I wrote for school, I mean. I hope that this will be helpful to you!

In my book reviews, I would like to highlight the storytelling abilities of the author, consider the impact of the art style if any, and evaluate how well the book does what it sets out to do.

I will do this for books written for a variety of audiences and ages.

Just as a precaution before you delve in – in the end, my opinion and preferences have an impact on the rating. When it comes to judging literature, it is impossible not to let personal biases interfere.

I will, however, honestly evaluate the aspects of the book to the best of my ability so my review can help you determine if reading the book is worthwhile or if it sounds like its the book for you. For example, if it’s a well-written horror book, I will give it a good rating even though I personally dislike the horror genre.

If you happen to disagree with my evaluation for any reason, feel free to describe your point of view in the comments.

Now, for the real review.

First, a little background.

The graphic novel New Kid by Jerry Craft won the 2020 Newbery Medal as well as a host of other awards, and was added to many distinguished lists. It is about the everyday life of an African American seventh grader named Jordan Banks. He starts the school year at a new prestigious school with low diversity, where he has difficulties fitting in.

Now I will list the Pros and Cons of the book before going into greater detail.

Pros

  • Achieves its original purpose
  • Strong message
  • Complex main character
  • Thoughtful title that changes meaning throughout the story
  • Creative chapter titles
  • Distinct artistic style
  • Well-established setting

Cons

  • The art style was unappealing, at least for me
  • Occasional build-up of tension, but low stakes
  • Slow pace

Review

Purpose

My overall experience with this book was very good. It does exactly what it sets out to do – depict the experience of an African American boy trying to fit in at a new school despite its low level of diversity.

From looking at what others have posted about it, it seems to somewhat accurately depict the experiences African Americans have had with microaggressions and racism. Some have said that what Jordan Banks experienced was much milder than their own experiences. Others empathized with his experiences and related similar experiences of their own. Overall, reactions to this have been mixed but generally positive.

Message

Part of the message was that anyone who makes assumptions about another person because of their color of their skin is being racist. Seems obvious, but that was only part of the message.

But Craft had the further, very important message that it is racist regardless of one’s intentions. Some of the people who were racist in this graphic novel were malicious, but most were just ignorant and thoughtless. (The instances of racism were still really cringey, and I believe ignorance is no excuse.) Furthermore, it is crucial to note that these offhand, thoughtless comments caused just as much harm to the main character as the malicious ones.

Another part of the message is that there is not enough representation of people of color and minorities in literature, at least not of the right kind. The writer actually used examples of what kind of literature is being marketed to black teens to highlight his point.

That was what I perceived as his message.

Complex Main Character

On the one hand, Jordan was deeply hurt by the microaggressions and racism he and his friends experienced. On the other, he was reluctant to retaliate, and struggled to find his own voice in opposition to racism.

He also feels torn because he feels that his friends from school and those from the neighborhood are somehow incompatible.

He is an artistic boy with profound ideas that come out in his drawings. For example, he wants to be like Batman, but not just because Batman is a hero, but because Batman lives two lives and manages to fit in perfectly with both.

Thoughtful Title

The title, “New Kid” seems to refer to both Jordan’s experience as the new kid at school and how he becomes a “new kid” as his experiences change his perspective.

Creative Chapter Titles

The chapter titles are puns based on movie titles. Hilarious!

Distinctive art style

Craft definitely has a style that is uniquely his own. It doesn’t look average, and the style is consistently applied.

Well-established setting

Unlike some books, which have trouble establishing the setting, this one had no problems because the setting was depicted visually with detail. The main settings are the school and the neighborhood. The school seems large and sprawling, and generally impressive. The neighborhood, where it seems many of the inhabitants know each other by name, is shown less but is still a big part of Jordan’s life.

Unappealing art style

The art style simply wasn’t for me. That being said, I’m sure there are others who adore it.

For one thing, the positions characters were in seemed unnatural at times. And not just where it had an obvious purpose such as emphasizing a character trait or emotion.

Tension

The tension was pretty low most of the time because Jordan is pretty laid-back about most stuff, and is unwilling to do anything that might jeopardize his ability to fit in (most of the time!)

A possible source of tension could be that he wants to go to art school but his parents are forcing him to go to a different school. This is a small source of tension, but Jordan barely argues the point.

When faced with microaggressions and racism, he typically shrugs it off or just complains about it later with his friends. I’m not saying that I think he should make a big scene – just that his responses keep the tension very low for most of the book.

The stakes are low – will he or will he not fit in? But he quickly makes good friends near the beginning of the book, so that lowers the stakes.

With low stakes and low tension, not much excitement is raised in this book. The climax is more like a bump in the road than a critical moment, even though it does signal a turning point. That being said, his story is still interesting, impactful, and worthwhile.

Slow pace

It may be because the tension is kept low, but the pace seems slow at times. This is because it is showing the everyday life of a seventh grader. Even the less interesting moments. The beginning took awhile to get into until it felt like the story really began and I was hooked.

Conclusion

I would certainly recommend this book, especially for middle school and junior high students, because I think they will identify with Jordan’s struggles to fit in and I think that not enough books are on English syllabi that have African American protagonists.

The poet Horace said that “the aim of the poet is to inform or delight,” and I believe that applies to writers in general. New Kid does both skillfully.

Links

Card Games

My Top Five Favorite Card Games

Recently, I created a list of my top ten favorite board games, and I thought, why not one for card games? In general, I enjoy board games more than card games, but these five I enjoy every time they make it to the table.

Here is my list, and why each made the top five:

#5 Coup

Coup Cover Artwork

Coup is a bluffing and risk-taking game. Your objective is to manipulate others and take control of the court.

Each player has two cards that represent the influence of particular character types. For example, an assassin or a duke. Each character type has an advantage named at the bottom of the card, such as allowing you to draw three coins.

You can use the abilities on the cards in your hand, or pretend to have a card with a different ability. Other players may catch you if you are bluffing and force you to lose influence. If the other player is wrong, however, he or she is the one who will lose influence.

Once you reach 7 coins, you can launch an unblockable coup, forcing another player to lose influence.

Since each card in your hand represents influence, when you lose influence, you lose a card. You never draw another another card, so once you lose two cards, you are eliminated.

Even though I am not particularly skilled at bluffing, I enjoy playing this with family members who are good at it. I generally play it safe at the beginning, but some people start bluffing from the start.

It’s a simple game that is perfect as a warm-up for a lengthier board game, or for when you only have a short time to play.

All card types in the game

#4 Sushi Go!/Sushi Go! Party

Sushi Go! Cover Artwork

Sushi Go! is a drafting game. Each player starts with a hand, chooses a card, and passes their hand to the next player. All players then flip their chosen card and those cards take effect.

Some basic cards just score the points denoted on the card. Others require two or three in a matching set to score the point. Some are kept until the end of the round, and some until the end of the game, before scoring.

I like this game because of its cute theme and easy gameplay. After one game, players can easily become accustomed to the scoring system. It’s a great game to bust out when there is not much time to play.

The variant, Sushi Go! Party, provides an even greater variety of cards to make the game less repetitive. I fully recommend Sushi Go! Party if you can get it instead of Sushi Go!, but even the original simpler version will give you a good time.

#3 Dixit

Dixit Cover Artwork

I believe Dixit qualifies as a card game rather than a board game because the small board is only used for scoring purposes.

Dixit is a party game in which players take turns with the storyteller role. The storyteller looks at the cards in their hand, picks one, and without showing it to anyone else, uses a word or phrase that they hope will lead some players, but not all players, to guess it. For example, “Mirror, mirror.”

The goal for the other players is to guess the storyteller’s card.

Each other player uses the word or phrase to choose a card from their own hand, trying to trick the other players into falling for their card instead. For example, let’s say the storyteller’s card is of a woman who looks like an evil queen, and the storyteller is thinking of the classic Snow White.

Another player chooses a card with a literal mirror on it. A third, remembering that the queen asked for Snow White’s heart, uses a card with a picture of a heart on a platter. And so on.

These cards are mixed up randomly, and then players vote secretly using upside down numbered tokens on which one they think is the storyteller’s.

As explained before, the goal for the storyteller is to have some, but not all, of the players guess the storyteller’s card. The goal for everyone else is to choose the storyteller’s card.

If no one chooses the storyteller, or everyone chooses the storyteller, the storyteller gets zero points. This means the hint was either too vague or too obvious.

Players who are not the storyteller can gain bonus points if they trick someone else into voting for their card.

When my family plays, we have a rule that no one can comment after the storyteller chooses his or her word or phrase. This is to prevent players from accidentally giving further clues, such as by saying what the word or phrase reminds them of.

This is one of my favorite card games. It is a bit more complex than most party games, which I appreciate. I love the art on the cards, especially with the expansions. I think it is hilarious how two of my sisters use obscure anime references that they both understand to get ahead in the game.

Other relatives use references to sports, which they know that some players will get, but that my sisters and I will be clueless about.

One caution is that it is not good in groups where most people know each other really well, but there are some newcomers.

Dixit has artwork that is stunning and intriguing, which lends itself well to giving ambiguous hints. I like all of Dixit’s expansions, and while they do not change the rules, they provide more cards with new artwork and styles.

cards 1

#2 Dominion

Dominion Cover Artwork

Dominion is a deck-building game. In it, you play as a monarch attempting to gain influence and expand your kingdom. You start out with a small deck and use treasure to buy cards to add to your deck.

The real goal is to gain victory points by buying victory cards, but these otherwise powerless cards clutter your deck and make it harder to take actions during your turn.

The base game has some variety in which cards you can create the store with, but the expansions greatly modify gameplay and what your decks will consist of.

One of my favorite cards is the Witch, which curses other players by giving them -1 victory point cards to clutter their deck.

This is a phenomenal introductory deck-building game that has dozens of variations. I would recommend any of the expansions to add on to the game, because all of the expansions I have played have changed the course of the game and made it very interesting.

Two player game setup

#1 Saboteur

Saboteur Cover Artwork

Saboteur is my favorite card game. In it, you play a dwarf mining for treasure in caverns. The game is three rounds long. Each game, there is at least one, but usually two saboteurs.

The goal of the regular miners is to make a trail seven cards long to the treasure, which can be in one of three places. (Generally, they use maps to ascertain the location as soon as possible.)

The goal of the saboteur is to prevent the other miners from reaching the treasure. This can be done by placing dead ends, turns, and other unhelpful pieces. Saboteurs can also sabotage the tools of the other miners, breaking lanterns, pickaxes, and wheelbarrows.

When a dwarf has a broken tool, he or she cannot place anymore tunnel pieces until they are healed.

The dwarf that puts the finishing card on the tunnel gets to choose from the treasure first. For the Saboteur to win, the other miners must be unable to place more cards or obviously be unable to finish the tunnel to the gold. After winning, the Saboteur automatically gets three gold because it is harder to win as the Saboteur.

This game is so much fun, we have played several consecutive games in a row on some days. It doesn’t feel like simply a warm-up for a more complex board game – it’s more like the main event. This is one game that is simple enough to learn quickly and yet does not get boring. That is why it made #1 out of my favorite card games.

Board Games

My Top Ten Favorite Board Games

Since I became a board gamer, I have played dozens of board games with my family and friends. As someone who follows the board gaming community, I noticed the popularity of top ten lists and decided to share my own. Here it is:

#10 Agricola

Agricola Cover Artwork

Agricola is a worker-placement game where you play a small family of farmers trying to survive and thrive. At the beginning, you have only the farmer and his spouse as workers, but as the game progresses and more rooms are created in your house, the family will grow to include children.

There are a variety of strategies to use in this game and many aspects to focus on. For instance, you can focus on plowing fields, planting, and harvesting crops. Or you can focus on accumulating sheep, boars, and cattle and creating pastures for them to graze. The game rewards generalization, and you lose points if you fail to develop in any area – for example, if you don’t have any cattle.

There are also minor and major improvements such as building a furnace to make cooking more efficient or creating new rooms in your house, or improving existing rooms. There are a limited number of furnaces, so it is best to focus on getting the best one early in the game.

My favorite part of this game is developing each area of a farmer’s life, especially accumulating animals. It’s a fun game to play with family, and it is interesting to see that each of my family members takes on a different strategy.

#9 Castle Panic

Castle Panic Cover Artwork

Castle Panic is a cooperative board game where players work together to protect their kingdom from monster hordes. Even though players win or lose together, only one player can be the best monster hunter, and that person becomes the overall winner. This creates a friendly spirit of competition in this otherwise cooperative game.

This is one game that is fun even though the players frequently lose. This is either because there is particularly competitive person at the table or because the amount of monsters is just overwhelming. The game presents a real challenge and winning feels like a real victory.

Even though this is one of my favorite games, my family doesn’t play it often because they don’t like it as much as I do.

An honorable mention here would be My First Castle Panic, a simpler version of the game that I play with my 3-year-old sister. It is just challenging enough to be interesting even for older members of the family.

Castle Panic set up with the Monsters advancing.

#8 Wingspan

Wingspan Cover Artwork

Wingspan is a competitive game where the goal is to collect diverse species of birds on your wildlife reserve. The artwork in this game is stunning to say the least. It a very well-designed game thematically.

This is another game where you can take on a variety of strategies based on your preferences. You can try to broaden the species of birds on your reserve, accumulate eggs on your cards, and try to achieve your secret goals. Of course, it is best to do all of these things, but often one of these becomes the focus of your game. There are also objectives for each round you can complete to gain extra points.

This game is beautiful, enjoyable, and rewarding to play.

#7 Descent

Descent: Journeys in the Dark Cover Artwork

Descent is a sprawling, cooperative dungeon-crawling board game that takes 4-6 hours per game. Since when I play it with my family, we usually take breaks, it takes even longer. We have a tradition in my family to play it each year on New Year’s Eve.

In it, you take either on the role of a custom hero with their own story and attributes, or the role of the overlord whose goal is to destroy the heroes. The heroes must reach the goal in each given dungeon, whether it is to win a major boss battle, find a particular item, or something else entirely.

The character I chose for this board game is what I call a Tank character – one with high HP and moderately high melee ability. One of my sisters has a character who specializes in long-range attacks, and my other sister has one that has potent magic spells. My dad always plays the overlord.

I have a lot of fond memories of this game.

Descent + All 5 expansions

#6 Gloomhaven

Gloomhaven Cover Artwork

Gloomhaven is similar to Descent because it is another cooperative, dungeon-crawling game. However, it is shorter, so my family is able to get it to the table more often. While Descent involves more luck because of its dice-rolling, Gloomhaven relies on cards.

Each turn, you choose two cards from your hand that constitute your actions for that turn. The deck of cards you have to choose from gets smaller over the course of the game, so there is a limit to the amount of time you can spend in the dungeon before running out of actions. This adds to the tension of the game but does not take away from the enjoyment.

In this game, you play through many scenarios and have choices about which missions to undertake. It is like a stream-lined version of Descent with an interesting story line and several gameplay differences, which is why it’s my #6.

All the components that I could fit on the Essen…

#5 Mechs vs. Minions

Mechs vs. Minions Cover Artwork

Mechs vs. Minions is another cooperative game that plays campaign-style. In it, you play one of four possible Yordle characters whose primary objective is to keep minions from overrunning the base and creating an assortment of problems.

One of the most creative aspects of this game is that you pretty much program your movement with cards. Each turn you add a card to your programmed movement. When you get hit by a minion, you have to add a damage card to your programmed cards, which can really mess you up.

When this programmed movement goes right, it can allow you to skewer or trample a lot of nasty minions. When it goes wrong, it’s hilarious.

For example, I once did a 90 degree turn to the left, then turned back 90 degrees to the right. Following that, I shot randomly while striking nothing, spun around, and ran into the side of the board. All while hordes of minions were approaching.This game is enjoyed by me, my sisters, and my dad.

Honestly, the programmed movement is my favorite part of the game and why this game made #5.

Mission 2 - There is a good reason there are 100 minions in the box!

#4 Lords of Waterdeep

Lords of Waterdeep Cover Artwork

Lords of Waterdeep is a worker-placement game. In this game, you play as one of the Lords of Waterdeep, each of which has a secret objective. No one but you should know who your Lord of Waterdeep is.

You gain points by completing quests, and can sabotage your opponents or get ahead of the game with Intrigue cards. You can also build shops that give you bonuses when other players shop at them.

To complete quests, you must use cubes which represent people and influence. Completing quests usually is the most important way to gain points and win the game.

I like this game best with its expansions, which create an added element by offering a corruption track. You can take profitable actions if you are willing to gain corruption, but it can have disastrous consequences at the end of the game if you don’t find a way to remove the corruption.

#3 The Quacks of Quedlinburg

The Quacks of Quedlinburg Cover Artwork

The Quacks of Quedlinburg is a Push-Your-Luck board game. To be honest, I dislike most games that have luck or risk as a major factor in who is the winner. This one is a definite exception because the game play is so enjoyable.

In Quacks of Quedlinburg, the players act as potion makers, using various ingredients that provide different bonuses. You start out with a bag of chips, and choose randomly from that bag to put ingredients in your pot. Cherrybomb chips have a negative effect when drawn, making your pot more likely to blow up. As the game proceeds, you have the opportunity to buy new chips with more powerful effects.

Winning is a matter of pushing your luck to the limit while blowing up as few times as possible. If your pot blows up, you must choose between earning points or buying chips that round. It’s not the end of the world if it happens, but it’s best to avoid it.

Out of all the times I have played, I have only won once. It’s a testament of how good the game is that I had so much fun playing it even when I frequently got last place. (My luck is terrible).

#2 Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game Cover Artwork

Dead of Winter is a zombie game, and I hate zombies.

Why do I still love the game? Well, it’s a tense cooperative game with an awesome thematic design that even I can appreciate. The scenarios presented by the game pose actual moral dilemmas that make decisions difficult. That is why it is called a Crossroads Game.

Furthermore, like Castle Panic, everyone either survives or dies together, but even if you survive, the real winners are the ones who complete their secret objective. Last of all, there is occasionally a hidden traitor, whose goal includes causing the others to lose the game.

Sometimes, just making it through the round and managing to feed everyone is the best you can do.

Each player controls a faction of survivors that can scavenge, contribute to the stockpile, clean up camp, and complete other actions to progress the game. What actions you can take is based partially on the luck of a dice roll, which makes sense because even survival is based partially on luck.

As you might guess from the title, Dead of Winter is set in the middle of winter. Thus, in addition to infections from zombies, players risk frostbite in they venture from camp.

Overall, this game is well-designed, tense game of survival.

One of the days from Dead of Winter...

#1 Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars Cover Artwork

My absolute favorite game ever is Terraforming Mars. Part of that is the theme – it’s such a cool idea. Preparing Mars for settlement by gradually making it possible for life to inhabit the red planet – genius! The board and cards are well-designed, and some of them are even humorous.

You can take actions such as civilizing the board with cities and greeneries and using space event cards, action cards, and general cards. The strategy you take on depends partially on your corporation – for example, you might focus on making investments in titanium or megacredits, the currency of the game.

The reason I love this game so much is that even when I lose, I feel that I have achieved so much that it doesn’t even matter – it’s still a ton of fun.

Out of the expansions, I can only recommend Prelude. I have the other expansions, but I cannot say they improve the game at all. They simply make things more complex.