New to Me: Summer 2016

Summer was a nice quarter for gaming, with a number of releases really excelling. Here’s a look. Remember as always that these are “new to me”, which means that they might be brand-new releases or something a bit older that I hadn’t yet seen.


The Great

Agricola Revised Edition (2016). Yep, this is a pretty old game by now. The new edition has better rules and cleans up the cards a considerable amount, producing a more balanced game. I recommended Agricola before, and it’s only better now. Continue reading

A Deckbuilding Look at Tyrants of the Underdark

Tyrants CoverClearly, deckbuilding games are still a going concern, as I’ve been able to write about two new designs this month: first Mystic Vale (2016) and now Tyrants of the Underdark (2016).

With that said, deckbuilders are growing more outré too. Both of this month’s designs have basic mechanics that you could have found in second-generation deckbuilders following Dominion (2008), but they also incorporate much weirder elements, like the plastic cards of Mystic Vale … and the plastic armies of Tyrants.

The Game

Tyrants of the Underdark (2016) is a game in two parts.

On the one hand, some cards give you Influence. That’s used to buy cards from a central tableau. The default cards can be used to generate influence or power, while a random array of six market cards can provide players with more varied powers.

On the other hand, some cards give you Power. That’s used to affect the game board. You can use your influence to deploy troops or to assassinate troops, slowly expanding across the Underdark and taking control of central locations, which are worth victory points.

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New to Me: Winter 2016 — So Much Very Good!

Winter of 2016 was a somewhat unusual season of gaming for me. I played some new games and some older games that were new to me. Though I didn’t play any games that I ranked as truly great, there seemed to be more than the usual share of games that were Very Good — so many, in fact that I broke the category in two. Overall, it was certainly a strong season for gaming!

The Very Good

AquaSphere ThumbnailAquaSphere (2014). What a peculiar name, and it’s a peculiar theme too, with its board of a big underwater base. I think those two elements and the garish art put me off AquaSphere for a while, despite my love for Stefan Feld’s games. But, it turns out the theme is appropriate, because you’re programming robots. I actually ended up being  pleasantly remindedof Nautilus (2003) — a game that I wanted to be much better than it actually was because of its fun underwater theme.

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A Deckbuilding Look at Cthulhu Realms

Cthulhu Realms BoxThe brand-new Darwin Kastle deckbuilding game Cthulhu Realms is a new iteration of his Star Realms system, which means that it’s another classic deckbuilder with a focus on interpersonal combat. Despite its origin as an iteration of an existing design, it still offers new innovation to the field.

With its Lovecraftian basis, it’s also a great game for the Halloween season!

The Game

The gameplay of Cthulhu Realms (2015) follows closely on the design of its predecessor, Star Realms (2014). This means that the deckbuilding play is pretty basic: you play cards that give you money (conjuration points), then you use that money to buy cards from a row of randomly selected cards. The cards then go into your discard pile, for use on future turns. This also means that the other play focuses player conflict: you play cards that do damage to your opponents, with the ultimate goal of killing everyone else off (well, driving them insane; it is a Cthulhu game, after all).

However, the cards of Cthulhu Realms are also heavily interdependent. Many have powers that only activate when you play a card of a certain color or a card of a certain type. Others only activate when you force a discard of a card or trash (abjure) a card. The result is both increased tactical play and increased emphasis on the deckbuilding. Continue reading

New to Me: Summer 2015 — A Lot of Good

I played a lot of new games during the Summer — almost 20. And for the longest time, most of them were good but not better. Fortunately, toward the end of the season things improved and move games appeared in my Very Good to Great range. As always, this is a listing of games that I’d never played previously, and it’s my personal take on the games, as a medium-serious game player.

The Great

KeyflowerKeyflower (2012). This Richard Breese game is a couple of years old, but I played it for the first time a few weeks ago, so it makes the list. All of the Breese games I’ve played to date are dense combinations of classic Euromechanics, and this one’s no exception. In fact, it’s an auction/worker-placement/tile-placement game. (Seriously!)

I found the combination of auction and worker placement to be both innovative and interesting. Each turn you either place meeples as workers (to take advantage of a tile’s action) or else you place them as bids (to try and purchase a tile for future usage and/or victory points). The balance is a really tricky one because you might want to grab an action before anyone else, or you might try to make an all-important first bid; doing either also allows you to determine the color of meeple (currency) that must be used for all future bidding on working on that tile.

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Deckbuilding Expansion: Ascension, Part Two — From Vigil to Champions

Ascension Core GameTwo weeks ago I took a look at the first four Ascension sets, examining the mechanics of each.

In this article, I’m continuing that journey by looking at the most recent four sets — from Rise of Vigil through Dawn of the Champions. I’ll be examining how they influenced the Ascension game and deckbuilding in general. In doing so, I’ll be bringing Ascension up to date — and perhaps I can repeat this exercise in another 2-3 years.


Block Three: Vigil & Darkness (2013)

Ascension: Rise of VigilAscension fell into its scheduling stride with the release of the large-box Rise of Vigil (2013) and the small-box Darkness Unleashed (2013) which together form Block Three of the game.

These two sets also used a simple model for introducing new mechanics: a major mechanic appeared in Rise of Vigil (Energize), and then was ever-so-slightly adjusted in Darkness Unleashed, which also saw a new and related mechanic (Transformation). Continue reading

Deckbuilding Expansions: Ascension, Part One — From Chronicle to Heroes

In the last year-or-so, it seems like the surge of  deckbuilding games has finally slowed down. I’m certainly still looking forward to some upcoming releases like Don’t Turn Your Back, Cthulhu Realms, and Apocrypha — and I think some bag-building games deserve some crossover attention. However, in 2013 or 2014, I could expect to play 5-10 new deckbuilders a year, and that’s no longer the case.

Fortunately for us fans of deckbuilding, there’s still a lot of interesting innovation of the traditional deckbuilding form to be found — it’s just in expansions rather than new games. 


Ascension Core GameAscension (2010) kicked off its expansions with something very important: a plan. Rather than releasing expansions willy-nilly, the folks at Stoneblade Entertainment (or whatever the company’s name is this week) decided to arrange their supplements into “blocks”, following in the footsteps of Magic: The Gathering (1993).

Each of these blocks was to consist of just two sets: one big set and one small set. They’d have coherent mechanics, and thus they’d work well together. In fact, that’s the suggested way to play Ascension: only mix boxes from the same block.

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