Summoner Wars: Second Edition Master Set
Plaid Hat Games
Designed by Colby Dauch
2 players, Ages 9+, 40 - 60 Minutes
When I first began my interests in this tabletop gaming hobby, I heard about a plethora of head to head games that interested me. Of course, I had already gone into Magic: The Gathering, but I was starting to put those cards away and moved towards board gaming. The Portal was always the game store that showed me the new and interesting games that were coming out, and at this point in my gaming life, I wasn't too interested in European Style Games, and focused more on head to head experiences.
I heard about Summoner Wars one of those times when I was in the Portal when a Master Set had come out. But even then, after some research, I noticed that I would be so far behind when it came to the content that I passed on it. And then, within a month, the game was gone. I couldn't find it anywhere on the shelves, and when I did, it wasn't the base game. After a while, I forgot about the whole thing, and moved on to other games in this genre, including Ashes which is published by the same company. But recently, Plaid Hat Games announced that they were reprinting Summoner Wars, along with adding factions out of the gate. Reviews began to come out and I couldn't wait to get my hands on this one.
So what's this game about? Well, it's a head to head two player game that pits summoners against each other. But the thing that's different here is that there's a grid style board along with some dice that'll be rolled for combat. Let's go through how the game works, and then I'll give you my thoughts to see if this is one you'll want to get.
To set up, you'll choose one of the six summoners in the box, then turn over their card to see which units you begin with, and how to place them on the board. Once you've done that, each player starts with 2 magic, with the second player getting 3 magic as a second player bonus, and you begin. A turn is played out through six phases, all of which are printed on the board. The first phase is summoning. Here, you spend your magic to bring units out onto the board based on the cost. You must place a new unit adjacent to a gate orthogonally. Once you've decided that you're done summoning units, or you don't have any magic left, you head to phase 2, which is movement. For this phase, you move 3 different units up to 2 spaces. This must be orthogonal movement, never diagonal, and you cannot move through other units, friendly or enemy, unless your card allows you to do so. Once you move your units, you head to the build phase. This is where you can choose to build any number of gates you might have in your hand. They're free to build, but they must be placed in your back three rows, or an empty space adjacent to your summoner. Then comes the combat.
In phase 4, you choose up to 3 different units to engage in combat. In melee combat, your target must be adjacent, not diagonal. You then roll the dice determined by the strength of your unit, and each melee symbol rolled is a hit on the opponent. Damage is given out determined by the card effects, and you move on to the next attacker. If you use ranged combat, you choose a target up to 3 spaces away in a clear line without anything blocking you. Then you roll based on your strength and deal out hits accordingly. When you've taken out an enemy unit, you gain one magic. In phase 5, the magic phase, you can choose to discard any number of cards in hand to gain 1 magic for each discarded that way. And then phase 6 is to draw up to five cards in hand. If you already have five cards, then you don't draw. If ever your draw pile is empty, you don't draw back up, and you don't shuffle your deck. You'll play the rest of the game with what you have in hand.
Now the only thing I haven't covered yet is events. These are cards you'll have with specific times for you to play them listed on the card. If the card is considered active, it goes to the side of the board and at the beginning of your next turn, it will be discarded. And overall, that's how you play the game. There are subtle nuances that enhance each player's abilities, but overall it's quite simple.
So what do I think of this game? I think it's one of the best head to head card games out there that isn't collectable. When a game takes on an elegance such as this, it's one that remains on the table. When I first got a chance to play it, not only did I want to play again, I wanted to play as the same character instead of jumping right into another one. I wanted to understand each and every one of them eventually, but I wanted to master the summoner I had chosen. I love Ashes, which is another of these non-collectable head to head card games with new factions trickling out, but this one might come out ahead. The game is simpler, there's less to keep track of, and for the most part, all the rules are on the board. And I love it when game rules are on the board.
If you love head to head combat games, this is one that should be in your collection. I'm so happy Plaid Hat Games brought this one back, and I hope it's here to stay. I know that I'll be diving in to each and every one of these summoners that'll be released. I give it a solid 9 out of 10.
The “Rising” Series
The OP, 2018-2020, Designer: Andrew Wolf
Images courtesy of Boardgamegeek.com. All images were provided by the publisher through W. Eric Martin or Ross Thompson
In 2018, a board game was released called Thanos Rising, which was released alongside The Avengers: Infinity War. It was a co-operative game that allowed two to four players to team up and take down Thanos and his allies before he gained all of the infinity stones. Players did this by rolling dice, and using character abilities to defeat seven villains before the Infinity Gauntlet was complete.
Since then, The OP, the company that publishes the “Rising” series, has released a number of other games in this line that are fairly similar, yet all have differences. At the store, a number of us have been playing the heck out of the “Rising” series. If you don’t know, there are five of them at this moment.
Now, I can already hear from some of you, wondering which one is best. That would be a little revealing this early in the review, but let me tell you the basic mechanics of this series first.
At the setup of the game, each player will choose which team they want to be on. Once they’ve figured that out, they’ll take the main character card and place it next to the team, and that will tell them which dice to roll when the game begins. Overall, the board is quite simple. It is either a hex, circle, or square, and some cards will align the edges of those features. The player will decide which location to head to so they can recruit cards from whichever location they chose. After they’ve chosen their location, the player will roll a set of villain dice which shows where the villain moves, and any other effects will happen due to which game you’re playing. When the villain moves, they will damage each hero card at their location, including your team, if you’ve chosen the location the villain moves to. If there are any villain cards at the location, those villains will activate as well. This can either work in your favor, and not much happens, or it can chain out to some really rough stuff.
Once the villain has finished, the player gains dice from their team, both through their team card and character abilities. They roll the dice and are looking to either damage a villain or recruit another hero. Recruiting is simple. You have to match the dice symbols on the card. If you want to damage a villain, you need to roll the dice symbols on the card. Most of the “Rising” games tell you that you can only damage a villain once on your turn. However, there are some characters that would allow you do this action twice, but overall, you deal one damage. When you roll dice, you must lock one of them on a character or villain. If you cannot, you should see if your team gives you any abilities. If there’s still nothing you can do, you must discard one dice and continue rolling. You do this until you have spent all your dice, or you’re unable to perform an action. When you recruit a character, you remove all the wounds it may have gained and place your new team member next to you. If you wounded a villain, you give them one damage cube, and gain a bonus token. If you defeated the villain, you remove it from play, and at the end of your turn, fill in all empty spaces on the board. Also at the end of your turn, if there are any hero cards filled with damage cubes, they’re removed from the game and set in a pool since losing hero cards are one of the ways you’ll lose the game.
This is, overall, how most of the “Rising” games work. But I would like to go over the differences in win/lose conditions for each.
Thanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War – You win the game by defeating seven villain cards. If you would like to enhance the difficulty, you can add more villains that need to be defeated. You lose the game if ten or more heroes are defeated at the end of any given turn, or if Thanos gathers all six infinity stones.
Star Wars: Dark Side Rising – You win the game by defeating seven villain cards. If you would like to enhance the difficulty, you can add more villains that need to be defeated. You lose the game if ten or more heroes are defeated at the end of any given turn, or if the Death Star becomes fully operational.
Harry Potter: Death Eaters Rising – You win the game by defeating Voldemort. Voldemort can only be damaged by the number of Death Eaters you’ve defeated (i.e. if you’ve only defeated one death eater, you can only damage Voldemort once, and he needs five damage to be defeated). You lose if 8,9, or 10 heroes have been defeated, it all depends on the player count, or if four locations have been corrupted.
The Batman Who Laughs Rising – You win the game by defeating the Batman Who Laughs. The Batman who laughs will be revealed on a track that gives the villains special abilities throughout the game, or hinders the heroes. You lose if the track gets filled in completely, or if ten or more heroes are defeated by the end of any given turn.
Spongebob Squarepants: Plankton Rising – You win the game by fulfilling seven food orders. You can always add more required orders if you want more difficulty. You lose if Plankton gains enough ingredients to discover the Krabby Patty secret formula, or if ten or more characters run out of time.
There is also one overall lose condition. If any player loses all members of their team, the game is lost. There are more finite details to some of these, but if you’re interested in any, I can let you discover them for yourself. Overall, like I said, the “Rising” games all have a slight difference, but one thing remains to be said.
Which one should you get?
If I had to give you an answer, it would be “whichever IP you’re interested in.” The OP has delivered a great co-operative game system that appeals to many. Do you love the MCU? Hands down, get Thanos Rising. You’ll gain the feeling of having that pressure of defeating a number of villains before Thanos obtains the infinity stones. Do you love Harry Potter? Pick up Death Eaters Rising. It has always given me that final Battle of Hogwarts feel and the big change here is that you have to defeat Voldemort instead of just ending the game with villains. Do you love Spongebob? Pick up Plankton Rising. There’s not only a great feeling of stopping him from getting the Krabby Patty formula, but the humor of the show comes through here as well. And lastly, are you a DC fan? Pick up The Batman Who Laughs Rising. While I feel that it combines a lot of changes from when the system began, it’s IP is odd. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I do feel that a regular Justice League or Batman game would have fit the bill here. I have not read The Batman Who Laughs, but I’ve heard some odd things about it. So the theme here is good but not strong. I’ve definitely had more fun by treating it like a regular DC comics game.
That brings me to Star Wars: Dark Side Rising. I cannot recommend this game since it’s not something that can be purchased here in the US. This title was released through the EMEA distribution over publication rights. So, here at the Portal, we can’t get it for you. However, if you’re overseas reading this, I did have a good time with the game. It’s mostly similar to Thanos Rising, but parts of the Death Star have a smaller track to activate unlike each infinity stone having the same amount of time to activate. And if you enjoyed Star Wars: Rebels, this game is for you.
So should you buy a “Rising” game? Absolutely. Even though it focuses on dice, you can gain tokens, and use the synergy of your team to help bring down the bad guy. And in the end, who doesn’t love chucking dice.
Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid
2 to 4 players
Image courtesy of Boardgamegeek.com and supplied by the publisher
I’m going to get this fact out of the way right now. I did not grow up watching Power Rangers. I grew up mainly in a Disney household, and the only channels I could watch were PBS and the Disney Channel. Anything that showed violence such as Looney Tunes, Transformers, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or the Power Rangers, was not allowed. And when this craze first started, I was at the proper age to appreciate Power Rangers. Fast forward to 2019, when nostalgia fuels the machine of industry. We watch movies and TV shows like It, Stranger Things, The Big Bang Theory, and Community. We hail the technological achievements of The Marvel Cinematic Universe in both visual effects and storytelling, and all of these entertainment outlets play on our need for nostalgia. With Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid, the nostalgia machine is played even further. All you need to do is look at the Kickstarter page for the first release of this to see that the support this game garnered. Over thirty-five hundred people raised seven hundred thousand dollars to bring this project to life. While I may not have grown up in a Power Rangers household, the power of the mechanics is what makes this game tick. But I’m not here to give you a lecture about how the early 2010s created the culture of geekdom and nostalgia that we live in now. I’m here to talk about the game, and is it good?
Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid is a game for two to five players, taking about one to two hours, depending on the enemies you face, and is published by Renegade Games. Designed by Jonathan Ying, this game allows you to take on the mantle of a ranger, and head into battle. When the board is first set up, you place the central headquarters in the middle and surround it with locations. If you have all the expansions, there are many different options for what locations you could use. You’ll also place three energy tokens in the middle for later in the game. Once you’ve done that, you’ll choose a ranger. Now, there are many different rangers and what they can do. If you think that there are only five rangers, (red, yellow, blue, pink, and black) well, then you don’t understand Kickstarter. With the add ons, you can also add in the green and white ranger. And there’s even an AI in the form of Alpha who can help the rangers throughout the game. There is a corresponding deck that matches your ranger, and then you’re ready to play.
At the beginning of each round, you’ll reveal five cards that have enemies and spawn points on them. In some rounds, the enemies will be accompanied by a monster, and eventually a boss in the later round. If the number of enemies ever matches the number on the bottom of the location, the location becomes panicked, and the excess moves clockwise. If there is ever a moment when all locations are panicked, then the game ends, and the rangers lose. The game also ends if a ranger dies by completely depleting their deck. We’ll talk about that later. Once the enemies have spawned out, then the rangers will take their turn.
On a turn, each ranger has two actions available to use. The actions that are possible are to move, fight, and recover. Each ranger makes a choice of two. When a ranger moves, they move to any location on the board they want. If a ranger chooses to fight, all rangers at that location draw up to five cards, and the battle grid is created. When a ranger chooses to recover, they look at the bottom of the cards in their discard pile and choose up to six shields worth of cards. But as with any game that would focus on the Power Rangers, the main mechanic of this game is combat.
When a fight is activated, the battle grid of enemies is created. You will head to the deck for the enemies that are present and reveal up to four of them. If there are more than four enemies at the location, the player who activated the combat chooses which enemies they will fight. The battle grid is the lineup of enemies that were chosen. If any of them have the keyword “fast,” they move to the front of the line and take the first turn. Then, much like in turn-based RPGs, the enemies and rangers take actions. If the rangers go first, one of the players will play a card, either an attack or maneuver and play it. It will either give them, or the party, an effect, or a chance to roll some dice against the enemies. If they roll dice, they choose which enemy to hit, roll, count up their hits and deal damage to that enemy. If the enemy is defeated, the card is turned over in the lineup, and then the enemies take an attack action. When a ranger is attacked by an enemy, they discard a card from their deck. If the shields at the bottom of the card are less than the attack, they continue drawing until they have enough shields to cover the damage. If the shields are precisely the same, you don’t discard any further. If your shields are more than the attack value, then you place that card at the bottom of your deck instead of discard. Remember, a ranger can die when they’ve depleted their deck.
There is one caveat to all of this. If it comes time for the enemy to attack, and the card is facedown since it was defeated, then the enemies lose a turn, and the rangers go again. The more damage the rangers can do early on, the fewer opportunities the enemies get to hurt them. If the rangers can defeat the boss, they win the game. If at any time, a ranger has depleted their deck, and there are energy crystals in the middle of the board, they can spend one to get their whole deck back. There are some other details of how the game works, and I won’t go into all of them, but I do want to talk about Gigazord. When an enemy is defeated, they don’t go back into the supply.
Instead, they head onto a power track. When six enemies are defeated, the top card of the zord deck is drawn. Whichever player it matches, gets their power card. Then, the power level of Gigazord goes up one. When the power gets up to six, Gigazord comes out, and when it does, each enemy card in that location during a fight gets damage. This can be a definite advantage if you’ve made it far enough in the game.
Now, what do I think of Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid? I’m not a Rangers fan, and yet there was something about this game that drew me back over and over again. When I was ranking my best of the year, Power Rangers came in at number nine. And I’m not a Rangers fan. What was it that won me over? It was the turn-based combat and the way the cards worked. There is a great deal of pressure in this game, not only from the monsters on the board but from the cards you might have in your hand. This game does rely on some luck, as your hand of cards can be useless to you throughout a fight, and you find yourself just standing there. That’s not what the Power Rangers want. They want you to work together to fight with teamwork. I’ve never seen more than five episodes of the show, but that’s the basics of what I saw. As a cooperative game, this one does stand out since each player has a voice in what they do.
A common concern with cooperative games is that one player can take over, or as the industry calls them, the Alpha gamer. Now, this can happen in Power Rangers, but it might not always work out. The cards you play allow you to roll dice with 0-2 hits on them, and when you play that card, it might not work in your favor, though it would seem that the card should have worked. And that’s where it slows the Alpha player. They often seek to control the board, and with those dice, that can’t always happen. I’m speaking from experience there. But if you’re playing with the right people, and understand how your ranger works with their unique ability, the need for one player to Alpha is somewhat diminished.
One thing I love about this game, along with every great cooperative game, is that it comes down to the wire. Have you ever played a game of Pandemic or Legendary that never felt any tension? In Power Rangers, I always felt pressure on me, almost like we weren’t going to get past the main spawn of the game. I should mention that you can only take off the panic tokens from the location if you’ve defeated each figure in that location. That can make things rather difficult for the rangers to complete since they can only fight four enemies at once. And then there’s the card system that forces you to discard when you’ve been hit. You wonder if you should recover, or spend one of the energy tokens in the center of the board to bring your deck back up. All of those decisions that need to be made are what make this game stand out to me.
Even though this game was funded on Kickstarter, there is a lot of content that is being put out continually by Renegade Game Studios. Did you not care for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but liked the Zeo or Turbo age better? Those are readily available to you. I know that the developers of the game intend to continue their support, which is always great to hear. If you have determination, you can fit everything into the base box in a somewhat orderly fashion.
If I had to make a negative, it was the one stated above. When combat is started, there is the possibility that your hand of cards can backfire on you. And when you’re in combat, there’s no way to make that recover action to gain a good card out of your discard.
Now let’s get down to some figures here. No, not the miniatures, which are rather large for being called miniatures. Is this game worth it? If you’re a Power Rangers fan, then absolutely. Some of you may know Jenn, the Board Game Librarian, and she grew up watching the Power Rangers. She adored this game, not only for the theme but for the way the mechanics captured the theme. But what about the price if you’re not a rangers fan? I thought it was worth it, and I continuously purchase each new expansion. But that’s coming from someone who’s in love with the mechanics. If you like the idea of turn-based combat in a board game setting, then this might be for you. The game is $90 for the base box, but you get a lot for what you pay. It’s no different than spending the same amount for a more extensive campaign game or a hefty Euro Game.
And how do the expansions fit into the game? It’s the best type of expansion I could’ve ever asked for. It just adds more stuff. It gives you new fighters, new monsters, and new villains.
There are even new rangers that can be added to your game. In the larger expansion box, there are more locations, and the rules that come with it are only one page long. Mainly, it tells you how to incorporate this expansion into the main box with more stuff.
It got extra points from me for that one.
In the end, I gave Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid an 8.75. There are many cooperative games out there with a strong theme, but this one really captured the show.
I think that with time, and the continuance of expansions coming from Renegade, we’ll see this one get stronger. And who knows? Perhaps they’ll put another wave of nostalgia onto this system with a different theme.
BGG Ranking: 8.75/10
Image: Loe, Danni, Board Game Geek, www.boardgamegeek.com, https://boardgamegeek.com/image/4263326/power-rangers-heroes-grid, accessed on July 14th, 2020.
Edge of Darkness
Designed by John D. Clair
Published by AEG
2019, Card Crafting System
120 Minutes, Weight 3.37/5 on BGG
Image from BGG, provided by the publisher@AEGNicolas 8/11/17
In 2016, John D. Clair presented Mystic Vale to the world. For many, it was the first time they were introduced to card crafting, and to others, it was a spin on the deck builder. I know that I was in the latter of that camp. But on the back of the rulebook, another game was promoted that I was interested in experiencing. Edge of Darkness was there, and there seemed to be promises of adding combat to the card crafting types of games along with an exciting story. Now, most of the imagery of the promotion did not last, but it did promise one thing. Edge of Darkness was to be “AEG’s most ambitious, deluxe, tabletop gaming experience ever.” Now that I’ve had a chance to play through Edge of Darkness a few times, I would say that I agree.
Edge of Darkness is a game for two to four players and takes about two hours once you’ve gotten the main mechanics under your fingers. It’s played over eight rounds with a prologue and the most victory points at the end, wins. Setup is crucial to the game, especially if you’re playing with specific scenarios provided in the player handbook. The base game comes with two tales split into eight chapters that can be performed, and the expansion Sands of Dunestar comes with another. The game is set up with fifty provided locations and certain card advancements for those locations. You will choose ten of them either through the scenario book or through an effective scenario setup system. Once the locations have been selected, you will get the cards for those locations and place them on the board. Through the prologue phase of the game, each player will sleeve two advancements in their guild cards, three in a two-player game, and take the action provided. Any advancements not accepted by the players will be sleeved into neutral citizen cards in the starting deck on the table. Then, all cards that were sleeved with advancements will be placed in a common discard pile, along with the remaining neutral cards.
On a turn, players will draft cards from the street, a central area where cards are offered for play. You check your guildhall, where your guild cards are placed after being used by other players, and put them in your hand. The first card available in the street is free to pick up, but if you want to pick up cards farther down the street, you’ll have to pay influence on the cards. Once a player has three cards, or more depending on available locations, you are ready for your turn. You then count the cubes listed on the card and pull them out of a bag and place them into the threat pool on your player board. Once all players have drafted their hand of cards, play then advances to the action phase of the game.
In the action phase, the main meat of the game, you’ll interact with the cards you have in hand. You have cubes from the previous turns threat pool, you start with two at the beginning of the game on your player sheet, and they get dropped into the cube tower. The tower has three ports where the cubes can fall. Each port holds a card from the deck, but instead of standard advancements, they're shown on the opposite side of the card that includes enemies. After dropping cubes into the tower, you resolve any of them that might attack you (six cubes in a two-player game, seven in a three-player game, and eight in a four-player game). The card attacks whichever player has the most cubes in the port, or if the neutral black cubes have the most, the card attacks everyone.
After an attack, the current player chooses one advancement on the board and sleeves it onto a card they’re holding. Some of these cards will allow you to put out agents on locations that could make cards in your hand more potent as the game goes on. Then, they may take the actions on their cards. If, however, you don’t have much to do with the cards in your hand, then you may discard one to return an agent to your pool, or discard two to use any effect on a card in the street. If you happened to draft a card that belongs to another player, you must pay that player one coin per action you used on their card. Once you used their card, it goes back to the player’s guildhall for immediate use on their turn in the next round. Once you’ve completed your actions, your hand goes into the discard pile. After eight rounds, you tally up the scores, and whoever has the most points wins.
The mechanics of the game are quite simple in Edge of Darkness. For the most part, it’s draft cards out of the street, see if you get attacked, upgrade a card, then do your actions. But it’s the way that these actions get performed that make the game deep. Each location handles advancements in specific ways, and there are even mechanics that allow you to take neutral cards and make them your own. You have to train your agents since you only start with four, and they’re each worth one point at the end. And having more agents allows you to create more powerful combinations with your hand. When you defend against an attacking card, you don’t get rewards for doing so. You get the bonus of protecting your property, which could equal up to seventeen points at the end of the game. But you have options that allow you to hunt down the cards in the tower. Some of them offer great rewards, usually straight victory points, and some allow you specific actions that you can take immediately. Some cards allow you to buy victory points, and some cards just give you money. Overall, the main mechanics are quite simple, especially if you’ve come to this game through Mystic Vale, but the decisions are incredibly profound.
Now, as promised, this game is big. It’s a table hog. But in the end, the experience is worth it. If I had to make a recommendation, allow yourself time for the first run-through of the game. With the number of rules and small bits of mechanics through the cards, I would have to say that we played the game wrong the first few times. Once we got the rules under our fingers, we understood exactly what needed to be done. AEG went all out when they made this game, from the cube tower that never allows a cube to rest within it, to the quality of the miniatures and plastic pieces throughout. The main concerns I had with Mystic Vale are not present here. In Mystic Vale, you had your deck that you were advancing, and when you filled out those cards completely, you could tell which ones were coming into your hand, just by the feel of the card. But in Edge of Darkness, the deck is shared, unless you have your cards in your guildhall, anything could come up. And you hope your cards are enticing enough to other players so they can make money on them.
And that is also the genius in the combat for this game. With all advancements being double-sided, anything that attacks you is your own fault. When you work hard to advance a card for use, you have to remember that the card could come out of the deck and work on attacking you. You have to think about what the future might hold for you when this card comes back. But at the same time, you get points for each slot advanced in your cards. When you advance your cards to the max, there’s even the possibility that you’ll pull more threat out of the bag for your next turn. Some mechanisms help you defend against attacks from the tower, and once again, it’s your fault if you don’t prepare for that. In a typical fashion for a Euro Game, you have to do everything with a limited amount of time and resources. And while the game might be competitive, everything that happens is an effect that either advances you or hinders you and the other players throughout the game. I played games of this where one player attempted to convince another that they shouldn’t place an advancement in a particular card because it could back and attack them. And in the end, it came out and attacked all of us right before the end of the game.
For those who might be concerned with variability, fear not. There are fifty different locations if you include Sands of Dunestar, all with different abilities. Even when you’re completed with the tales, there are scenario simulators that help you craft the perfect game for your experiences. There are different types of experiences you can create with the advancements, and each game I’ve played was vastly different than the last. And for those worrying about the components within the game, AEG delivered. Each game we played used a majority of what was in the box. I never felt at all that I wasted my money on useless pieces.
Now, before I get to my final thoughts on this one, I had a chance to think about the fans of Mystic Vale. Would fans of that game like Edge of Darkness? I’m not sure. I enjoyed Mystic Vale and played it a lot when it came out. But my major complaint about the game was that it needed expansions almost right away. If you sat down and played Mystic Vale twenty times within a few days, the combinations would get old, and you would want more. In Edge of Darkness, I don’t get that feeling. That being said, I have only played with a few expansions to Mystic Vale, and I’m not sure what was added later on in the game’s life. So take that opinion as you will. Those who yearned for more out of Mystic Vale will probably get the experience they wanted out of Edge of Darkness.
As for my final thoughts, I loved this game. It is a little pricey for our times right now, but I don’t think it’ll disappoint. It is filled to the brim with content. The sticker price for this game and the expansion through the store right now, since we still have some Kickstarter retail bundles available, equals out to the same amount someone would spend on Mystic Vale and the expansions. There are very few dislikes about the game, mainly that the rulebook is a little disjointed, and that the card advancements shouldn’t be left in a hot car, but other than that, this game is solid. I’m surprised not much was said about this one in 2019 as it will rank in my favorites of the year. When I was done with the first game, knowing that we got some rules wrong, I wanted to set it up again and go for a second round. Seeing what I could’ve done versus what I did is a significant part of this game’s staying power.
 Clair, John D., Mystic Vale Rules of Play, Ontario, CA. Pg. 23
BGG Rating: 9.5
\Ticket to Ride
Designed by Alan R. Moon
Published by Days of Wonder in 2004
Image above provided by Matthew Bartlett, as part of his collection
Ticket to Ride: A Retrospective
When a game’s reputation is as large as Ticket to Ride, we have to look back and see why it has reached that echelon of gaming. Not only that, but the game has stood the test of time for a reason. The game has such a simple concept of drawing cards from an open market, placing down track, and trying to get your trains from one area of the board to another. Sounds simple, right? So why is it so popular?
I think there’s something to be said about the trains community throughout our hobby. Many great train games simulate the stock trading, the goods delivery, and overall building of that industry, but why is Ticket to Ride one of those games that continually makes us rush back to it?
Even hardcore train game enthusiasts will admit that Ticket to Ride is one of those games that is an excellent introduction to this type of gaming. I had a chance to ask some of our staff what they thought about this timeless game.
Brandt Sanderson, the leading member of The Portal Gaming Podcast, could only speak high praise of the game, stating that “it shows a lot about a game when it can survive on constant variability through its mechanics. It’s not just new maps, but new ways to play.” He even cited Ticket to Ride: New York as being one of the many stepping stones for the growth of the game. “To create the experience of Ticket to Ride within fifteen minutes and still feel like you gained an excellent playthrough was huge.”
Larry Plano, one of our staff, said that “no matter what, the game always sells, even to this day. It’s an evergreen.” It’s safe to say that we usually have all of the expansions in stock, including Alvin and Dexter. Personally, I’m still waiting for the expansion that has a Cthulhu map since it seems to be one of the few games that haven’t gotten a Lovecraft facelift.
For those who haven’t played the game, let me give you a rundown. Ticket to Ride, which has a map of the United States with a handful of locations in Canada and Mexico, has several lines filled with colors and some grays. You’re going to get some tickets, based on the map, to get your train line from location to location. You will then spend the game drafting cards from a lineup of five or just plain drawing from the deck. Once you have enough of one color to lay down track, you claim it, placing small plastic trains down on the map. This might block someone from using that track later on in the game, or some of them are double tracks. You then score points for the length of the route you put down. Eventually, you’ll have fulfilled your destinations, and those will be scored when the game ends. However, if you don’t reach the destination, those will be negative points at the end.
And there it is. You have the option for three actions in the game. Take cards from the lineup or the deck, claim a route, or get more tickets with new destinations. It’s such a simple game and a pinnacle of Euro design. By that, I mean that there isn’t much direct conflict, but abstract. The only times you can get upset with your opponent is when you block someone, and there are plenty of ways to get around it, at least on the America and Europe maps.
The others that exist are Ticket to Ride Asia, India, The Heart of Africa, The Netherlands, United Kingdom/Pennsylvania(which introduces stocks), France, and Italy. There are even different sides to the expansions, including Legendary Asia, Switzerland, The Old West, and Japan.
There’s even an expansion that can only be purchased on the European market for Poland. The smaller editions of the game, the ones which can be played in fifteen to twenty minutes, are Ticket to Ride New York, London, and the upcoming Amsterdam. There are even stand-alone expansions for the game, including Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails, and Ticket to Ride: Germany (formally Ticket to Ride: Marklin).
So with all these iterations, surely there’s something negative to say about this timeless game. The main criticisms about the game are its simplicity. I don’t think the game has many problems, but some believe this is too simple. The fact that there aren’t large swaths of math or even weighty gaming decisions tells me that the audience who doesn’t care for this game tends to leave it alone.
That being said, perhaps you’d like to get into the game and are wondering what each map does a little differently. Let me take you through them.
Ticket to Ride: North America, mainly the United States. The original teaches the basics of collecting cards to make the routes.
Ticket to Ride: Europe: This game is great for an intro to the game as well. This is a bit friendlier since you can use stations to share routes with other players. This also introduces tunnels that require drawing cards to see if you make it through.
Ticket to Ride: Asia and Legendary Asia: This map is significantly large, and that’s what this map offers. This is meant for a four-player minimum with team play happening.
Ticket to Ride: India and Switzerland: The India map introduces creating connecting routes by a mandala, claiming extra victory points for the more tickets you completed in the circle. Switzerland’s map is one of the tightest for two players and a map where you can connect country to country. This is also a map where you can only use locomotives to build tunnels.
Ticket to Ride: The Heart of Africa: This map introduces one of the most challenging and confrontational maps in the collection. This is also where you may use terrain cards to double the values of their routes.
Ticket to Ride: The Netherlands: This map introduces tolls all around the map a player must pay to build a route.
Ticket to Ride: United Kingdom and Pennsylvania: The United Kingdom map is one where you have to build your train before you can create certain types of routes. The Pennsylvania map introduces stocks to the tracks that you lay, bringing a set collection to the game.
Ticket to Ride: France and the Old West: France’s map is interesting that you have to build the routes before you place down the track. This means that some routes may not be available to you when you go to build. The Old West side is one where you can build cities throughout, and your track has to build off the ones you previously built.
Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries: This map is only playable for two or three players. That is due to the constricting nature of the board.
Ticket to Ride: Marklin/Germany: While I’ve never played Germany, the two are similar as they introduce passengers. Each game presents a different type of mechanic with the passengers, but they are close.
Ticket to Ride: New York: This was the first iteration of the game in miniature form. The game plays in about fifteen minutes to a half-hour. You also get extra points for using routes with tourist destinations.
Ticket to Ride: London: This is the second in the line of games that plays in a short while. This game also introduces districts. If all your buses, instead of trains, touches the numbered areas, you score the points for that district.
There are some Ticket to Ride games I haven’t played due to some restrictions, but I’ve enjoyed them all. There is the card game, a dice expansion, and even some fan expansions, but the only map that is readily available that I haven’t played is Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails. The price point was the main reason I stayed away from it, and the chief complaint is the length and fiddliness of the game.
Overall, Ticket to Ride is one of the classics in this day and age. To even call it a modern classic seems off since the game has made its way out of the friendly local game stores and into the mass market locations, including Target and Walmart. I think that says more about the game than anything else. I would recommend this game to anyone who hasn’t tried it or are starting their game collection and would like to have a go-to game for the family, or even a gateway into the hobby.
Cover Your Kingdom: Conspire to Acquire Punderful Creatures
Designer: Jeffrey Beck
Artist: April Stott
Published by Grandpa Beck's Games
2 to 8 Players, 45 Minutes, BGG Weight 2/5, 2019
Cover Your Kingdoms, an evolution from "Cover Your Assets," is a game where you're collecting cards with point values in two kingdoms (or three in a two-player game). Now when I say that the game is filled with puns, they're everywhere. You can't turn over a card without there being a pun. Even the player sheets with the kingdom's name have puns that have no impact on gameplay but are genuinely creative. Even the names of the creatures have puns ranging from the "Sighclops," to the "Spydra," to the "LepreCon Man."
So what are you trying to do in this game, and why is it important? Within the two kingdoms of your player sheet, there are two symbols: Mountains and Fields, or as the game names them, the Highlands and the Lowlands. Each of the creatures has certain kingdoms they match. For example, the "Bragon" wants to be in the Highlands while the "UniqueHorn" needs to be in the lowlands. Some creatures can reside in both, if possible. Each card has a point value in the top left-hand corner ranging from 5 to 15 points, and these are the point values for the standard creatures. There are also two types of wild creatures that have points ranging from 20 to 40.
On your turn, you must perform one action but may take up to two. You can form a clan, attempt to recruit another player's clan, add a creature to your clan, play a Free creature, or discard then draw. It should be mentioned that you can repeat some of these actions but must perform at least one.
When you form a clan, you take two matching creatures and place them on your board in either the highlands or lowlands as a pair. You can also pair a creature with a wild that has a rainbow crystal on the upper left-hand corner. You're only allowed to use two cards when forming a clan, and cannot create them with two wild cards.
The next action you can perform is adding a creature to an existing clan. This action allows you to strengthen the clan on top of a kingdom. It can only add 1 creature to the clan, you cannot add wild cards. You may also switch lands the creature is in, as long as it can be in both, or "any land" creatures.
Recruiting a clan, and this is the meat of the game, is where you attempt to steal the top clan of an opposing player's kingdom. There are some "can'ts" that apply here. You can't recruit a clan until you've formed at least one of your own, and you can't steal from an opponent if it's the only one of the opposing players. You can only recruit the top clan from the opponent, and you can't recruit the same creature twice in a row. How this action works is that the player declares which opponent and clan they wish to recruit. They then reveal the creature card matching that clan from their hand. The opposing player can attempt to stop the recruitment by playing the same creature from their hand if they have it. This goes back and forth until one player concedes. It should be mentioned that you can also play wilds, and some of them count as two over the other. The winner takes all the cards played and places them in the clan. This is where the name of the game comes into meaning. "Cover Your Kingdom" is about protecting the cards you have. By stacking them, the clans below the top cannot be stolen from you.
There are free creatures in the deck that perform certain actions, and you can play them to alter the game. Their instructions are relatively straightforward on the card itself.
And the last action you can take is discarding and drawing back up. At the end of your turn, you draw back up to six and pass the player marker along with you. It's meant to show that you are the active player, in case confusion starts with the recruiting action. You will play until the cards have run out of the deck, and out of player's hands.
At the end of the game, you tally up your points from the kingdoms, and whoever has the most points wins. In the case of a tie, the player with the most creatures overall is the winner.
So what do I think of this game? It's good fun. It's a short, quick-paced game that never seems to have a dull moment. While you're attempting to puzzle out your next move in the game, you might have to delay that action when someone tries to recruit your own people. There's a high tension throughout gameplay. "Bragons," and "Klakens" are worth 15 points each, and if they're the top clan in your kingdom, you want those protected. And the wilds are even worth more points. So if you have any vulnerable large point groupings, you're a target. Working quickly throughout the game is critical to your victory, but it's also more entertaining than expected
And if you find yourself bored with the base game, which I have not even done yet after several plays, there are variants. The most interesting one, for sure, is the "Constellation Prizes." (See the pun?). You are given small chits with the creatures on it to place in the kingdom. When you play a clan of that type, you turn it over. If you have any cluster of creatures from the highlands, lowlands, or any lands, you get bonus points at the end, including an astronomical bonus if you got all three.
Grandpa Beck's Games have succeeded in one major aspect. They have brought simple games, usually card games, to the forefront of their company, and each time I introduce one of them to the group, they always enjoy it. "Cover Your Kingdom" is one of those games that's so fast and easy to teach, that we can get a game in within a half-hour. The mechanics are always tight, and the specialty cards make sense when they break the rules for a quick moment. There are hundreds of games with the "do this action, but only if...." moments when those types of cards show up, but this one avoids that. Those cards come and go. There are rare rules lookups in this game, and that, to me, is always a sign of a well-designed rule set.
Larry, one of our store's game connoisseurs, loves this game. "The interaction between players becomes enjoyable. It doesn't feel like a hard 'take-that' game because you bounce back so quickly. The puns are fantastic, along with the artwork and graphic design. They made it a whole lot of fun."
I must say, I never played "Cover Your Assets," so I cannot compare the two. But this one was a must for the collection here at the store. I'm pretty sure that once this whole "COVID-19" pandemic is over, we'll be running a demo of it on game night. When you reach the end of the game, there's always a question of who might've won. Some might have larger piles, but they could all be filled with 5 point creatures. Others could have large wild points hidden underneath, and you just don't know. Being kept on your toes is one of the many aspects of this game I enjoy. But mostly, it's the constant engagement of all players throughout, and downtime rarely exists here.
BGG Rating - 8/10
The Portal has gone through many changes in its past, but something needed to be done in this time of quarantine. The store needed a new look. When the decree came that all non-essential business would close its doors, the Portal took this time to change. We realized that some of our board game aisles were a little too constricting, and we were running out of space with the influx of games coming to the market. While we may be living through the Golden Age of Board Games, it also means that new products are flooding through our doors. Realizing this, we took action and began to make room.
This also allowed us to be a bit more practical when it came to the customer interaction with the store. When walking through the aisles as they were before, it was difficult for two people to walk side by side and look for games they wanted. It also became difficult on the miniatures end to find which models the customer required. There was so much in that regard that some miniatures disappearing behind other models.
The new open platform for our store also allows customers to find what they need quickly. The time allotted to us through this quarantine brought new light to what a game store could be, and how we wanted to present ourselves. And that went for the gaming library as well.
The gaming library at the Portal was growing just as quickly as the inventory, and Brandt Sanderson rose to the challenge of updating it. Some of the games that were removed were ones that were copies of another. You only need one iteration of the DC Deckbuilder, and only one version of Fluxx. This allowed us to present newer releases so that our customers could demo them before making the decision to purchase.
Talking with Larry Plano, one of our staff members, he approached the remodel with some key thoughts. He wanted "all types of games to have their own section for ease of use." He also thought "it was more important for the store to have less product to enhance the look of the store versus every product coming to the market. More quality products would be showcased instead of quantity." He even mentioned that this would "make the store look more presentable and professional."
And yet, while the store may be reopening with restrictions for health and safety, we are still not able to open up the gaming space. I know that this store has been a gaming haven for many of you, and for some, it has been a source of your only game nights, but we will get there. But for now, the retail space has gotten a remodel, and the staff is quite proud of the work they've done.