Seriously? (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

I have previously talked about how some games try and tackle a serious topic and treat it with the respect it deserves. Some games also go one step further and try and educate us about the topic as we play the game. My article “Sensitive Settings” tried to look at games that tackle plagues, wars, colonialism, genocide, executions, experimentation, extinctions, terrorism, abuse and death in a sensitive and meaningful way. In this article, I want to look at games that use a specific setting as a backdrop for a fun experience and that make no attempt at treating the serious issues in a serious way – and that setting is Nazi Germany. So, please bear this in mind when you decide if you want to continue reading this article or not.

One of the most popular themes seems to be Nazi Germany and in particular Hitler. I don’t want to name names, but I’m sure you can think of at least one game that has Hitler in the title. When you use World War II, Nazi Germany or specifically Hitler as the backdrop for your game and then proceed to make that game all about fun and laughter, then you’re clearly missing the point. Your game is making a joke of the atrocities that happened, the millions of people that were killed, the tens of thousands who fled their homes to try and get to safety in another country, that often didn’t welcome them with open arms, and then thousands of people who stayed behind and hid and lived every day in fear of being discovered and sent to a concentration camp.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with games trying to entertain us. After all, we call it “playing” games. Games are supposed to be fun – even though I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Games can also be educational or thought-provoking, but that’s a different discussion. Yet, trying to entertain people by making fun of atrocities and suffering is just wrong. There are many other topics that are much better suited for that – and that’s the part I don’t understand.

These games, that make fun of the horrible events that took place in Nazi Germany, are often really well put together, with clever mechanisms that create a memorable experience. It would be pretty easy to replace the setting with something else and end up with a game that can be genuinely entertaining. So there must be a reason why Hitler is chosen.

I do sometimes wonder whether Germany and the German people are often seen as funny, or something to be made fun of, at least in some English-speaking countries. Germans often struggle to pronounce the “th” sound correctly, often replacing it with “z”, which sounds funny. Hitler was also often caricatured in World War II propaganda in an effort to discredit him. So you end up with a sort of clown image of a mad German who tried to take over the world – and maybe that then leads to the idea that you can make a fun game out of it.

I struggle to see the logic in that, but maybe that’s one explanation.

It is, of course, also possible that Hitler is chosen as a topic, because it’s controversial and will attract a lot of attention. It could be a basic marketing ploy to get a lot of people talking about it, which will probably sell lots of copies of the game – and I have the feeling, that often works successfully. These games clearly got me writing about them, so there is obviously some truth in that theory.

At the end of the day though, I don’t know the actual motivations of the people behind these games. It could simply be naivety or a lack of understanding. All I can say for certain is that I completely disagree with these attempts of trivializing the horrible events, the persecution, torture and murder of millions of people, the aim to exterminate a whole people and the attempts to “cleanse” the German population. I don’t understand why these games didn’t choose another setting or topic, which would have been easy enough.

Before I finish this article, I would like to clarify a few things.

I am not against games that deal with wars in general or World War II specifically. I’m no expert, but I truly believe many war games are respectful of the events they try to emulate. At the very least, many don’t try and poke fun at the real historic setting they inhabit, even if many war games gloss over the amount of death and destruction that took place.

I’m also not against games that deal with difficult subject matters. I think it is possible to create games that deal with these subjects in a sensitive and respectful manner. I even think that games can teach us something about these events. In fact, there are a number of games available already that try to do this and I am planning to look at many of these more closely to understand why they work well or why maybe some don’t handle the subject matter properly.

Also, I don’t think that humour should not be used when it comes to tackling serious topics. I think there is a difference between making fun of something and using humour. For example, I think the film “Jojo Rabbit” uses humour really well. Humour is set against the terrible events that happened during World War II, and specifically the events that affected the protagonist directly, which creates this huge contrast that makes the terrible things seem a lot more terrible than they would have been viewed otherwise.

I appreciate that games with a backdrop of suffering, pain or even death will not be for everyone, but I do think that the games that deal with these settings in an appropriate manner do have a place in hour hobby. After all, our hobby is maturing and more and more games respect culture and ethnicity and don’t blindly appropriate them and more and more games try to be more representative and inclusive. So there is also room for games to try to tackle serious topics respectfully and sensitively – not just war, but a wide range of things that are often taboo in our lives.

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Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Pilfering Pandas (Saturday Review) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2021Players: 1-4 Players
Designer: Janice Turner, Stu TurnerLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Gianfranco GiordanoAge: 8+
Publisher: Wren GamesComplexity: 1.5 / 5

Things had gone missing – food, to be precise. Someone was taking bits of food here and there and stashing it away somewhere, hiding it from the eyes of everyone, especially the keepers. It quickly became clear that it wasn’t any of the visitors to the zoo, but one of the animals – or a group of animals. The meerkats were acting suspiciously as well and were clearly involved. However, as security camera footage was closely monitored over the coming days, it came as a shock that the zoo had a group of Pilfering Pandas by Wren Games.

Here is the latest game from Wren Games, who have landed one hit after another, first with the addictive two-player co-op game Assembly, and then with the deeply thematic solo game Sensor Ghosts. So the expectations are high for Pilfering Pandas and the pressure is on.

The game is off to a great start, because it can be played solo, co-operatively as well as competitively. That’s something that’s very hard to achieve, especially so because this time Wren Games have gone for a set collection game. So, yes, here is another game based around playing cards, but set collection feels like a relatively big departure for the designer and self-publisher – and Pilfering Pandas takes set collection to another level.

But let me start at the beginning. In the game, you’re a group of pandas who are pilfering food from other animals as well as visitors to the zoo and are giving it to the meerkats who convert it into supplies, or tools, that you need to escape. I was immediately reminded of the penguins from Madagascar, who were always trying to be “cute and cuddly”, so that they wouldn’t draw any attention to themselves as they were executing their escape plan.

It seems, the pandas in Pilfering Pandas are taking the same approach. However, I must say, the theme in the game is really just a skin, than something integral to gameplay. Saying that, the illustrations by Gianfranco Giordano are absolutely gorgeous and perfectly pitched for the game. They are a little bit stylized, which lends itself to a deck of cards, while still retaining the cute and cuddly factor, making it hard to focus on playing your cards, because you just want to keep looking at the lovely animals on the cards.

However, at the end of the day, on your turn you draw one or more cards, which is where the “pilfering” comes in. If you take more than one card, you are starting to attract the attention of the keepers, and depending on whether you play solo, co-operatively or competitively, you either get closer to being discovered and losing the game or you can’t pilfer multiple cards again for a while.

You choose the cards in such a way as to give you either a set of cards with the same number or a sequence of numbers of the same suit. If you have at least three cards with the same number of three cards of the same suit in sequence, you can then play them either to a shared row or to your own, depending on the mode you play in. That represents giving your pilfered food to the meerkats who give you supplies in return.

So far, that’s just standard set collection, but Pilfering Pandas adds a twist. The very first set you play out to a row can be anything, but if you add more sets, your new set will have to either match the number or the suit of the existing set – and you can add a new set either to the left or the right to the already played cards. You can also extend an existing set, for which you will only need one card.

I think this twist makes the game very interesting and much trickier than other set collection games you may have previously played – and it doesn’t end there.

In competitive mode, if you want to end the game, you have to have exactly one card in your hand at the end of your turn, and you will have to have played at least ten cards out in front of you. So playing a set of cards and ending with no cards in your hand isn’t enough. You always have to have one card left over, because at the end of your turn you always have to play one card into a central offer row, from which other players can take one or multiple cards.

It’s trickier than you think, because as you play sets, you don’t automatically refill your hand – and you usually only draw one card at the beginning of your turn and you also have to play one card at the end of your turn. So to get more cards into your hand, you have to pilfer multiple cards from the offer row, but then you attract the attention of the zoo keepers, which means you can’t do it again for a few turns.

It becomes a real puzzle, but when you pull it off, it feels amazing. In fact, it’s what makes the competitive play really shine. Timing is important. You don’t want to end the game too early, if you’re not in the lead, but you also don’t want to end up with too few cards in your hand, or you’ll find it hard to play more sets. It’s a real balancing act.

The solo and co-operative mode turn things around slightly. There is still a central offer row, from which you can draw one or more cards, but there are now several meerkat rows that you can play sets to. Your aim is to reach a certain score, before you have attracted too much attention from the zoo keepers, which start to catch up with you whenever you take more than one card. You still have to have a certain number of cards in the meerkat rows, making timing really important again.

You also need to switch up your thinking, because now you need to play cards into the offer row to help the other players make sets, while in competitive mode you really don’t want to play any cards that your opponents might need. So the solo and co-operative modes are really different from competitive.

Yet, for me, Pilfering Pandas really shines in competitive mode. Maybe I’m not a true co-operative player at heart, but it just feels like the game really challenges you as you play against other human players. Timing becomes a lot more important and holding onto the right cards is often vital.

That is not to say that the solo and co-operative modes don’t work. In fact, when I play Pilfering Pandas with my wife, we always play co-operatively. It’s the mode that suits best when we play together, and I think for a lot of people it will be the same.

It’s also going to be attractive to solo players. I can’t really comment too much on this mode, because I rarely play solo games, but when I tried it, it felt really close and you do have to work hard to win the game and help your pandas escape the zoo. The keepers are always close on your heels and it will take a few attempts before you beat the game, and then you can keep playing and try to beat your score.

So, if you want a lovely set collection game, with wonderful illustrations and a lot of replayability, then Pilfering Pandas is definitely for you.

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Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I was sent a free review copy of this game by the publisher.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

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Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Wind tunnel (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

Nobody likes a game with more rules than necessary. The more rules there are, the longer it takes to learn a game, especially if there are also a lot of edge cases or exceptions. Too many rules can lead to confusion and slow down the flow of a game and consequently increase playing time. In this article, I want to look at streamlining games and how it can affect the playing experience.

Let me continue with what a game feels like that has way too many rules. That usually means that two or more rules basically say the same thing and each variant might just deal with an edge case or exception. That will be confusing and ensure that players will refer to the rulebook many, many times as they play the game, which means playing time is noticeably increased due to the re-reading of the rules. So that’s definitely something that needs to be addressed or the game experience will be painful as the flow of the game and the immersion in the game’s world is constantly interrupted.

In fact, edge cases and exceptions should be removed completely, whenever possible. If something can’t be covered by a general rule, then it will mean players will either get stumped when they encounter an exception and will have to look it up in the rulebook or they may not even realize that there is an exception and fall back to what they believe is covered by a general rule. If edge cases are missed, players won’t be playing the game as it was intended and chances are, they will have a negative experience – even if sometimes, accidentally “house ruling” a game can lead to a better experience of course.

So, let’s assume the rules have already been optimized insofar that there is no duplication. However, there can still be way too many rules and by that I mean more rules than most people are likely to be able to remember. That rules complexity will usually make for a bad playing experience, because nobody is quite sure what they should do, which is made worse if players have multiple options on their turn. Games will feel like walking through treacle, except that treacle is at least sweet, while the playing experience will be bitter.

If the rules of a game can be streamlined and cut down to a manageable size, then playing the game will flow a lot better and therefore feel much nicer. If a game has only a handful of rules, then it will be easy to learn and remember. On your turn, you will know what you can and can’t do and chances are you will be able to formulate a strategy that will guide you through the game. Players will feel much more in control of the gameplay, as opposed to games with huge rules overheads that feel like they are playing you.

Saying that though, just because a game has very few rules doesn’t mean it’s not going to be complex, of course. Many games, that seem very simple at face value, turn out to be really thinky, because players have many options on their turn or they have to plan several steps ahead to be successful. Just think of something like draughts, which has very simple rules but will take a while to master and become good at. Go is, of course, another example of a game with relatively few rules but huge complexity that arises from the players’ choices.

Let me try and go full circle though, because sometimes it’s actually nice to play a game that isn’t fully streamlined and requires you to spend a good amount of time learning the rules before you can start playing. Even during the game your brain is not only occupied with deciding what to do on your turn but to some degree also remembering the rules. There is a fine line here between the relatively large number of rules making for an enjoyable experience and a game becoming really painful because the rulebook is more like a badly written novel.

There are more elements to all of this, of course. It’s not necessarily just the number of rules that will affect the players’ experience of the game. Clarity, just like duplication and edge cases, is very important – rules need to be well formulated so they are easily understood. The order in which rules are presented also matters and is probably one of the hardest things to achieve in rulebooks. Often it is clear which rules should come first, but not always – and making the right decision here can make the difference between a game that will never get played and one that will make your brain burn while you ask for more and just can’t stop playing it.

What do you think? Do you prefer games with very few rules or do you quite like reading a large rulebook? What games have you come across that have hardly any rules, but still create a deep and memorable game experience? What games do you think have just too many rules, so that you have house ruled them to make them easier and more fun to play? Please comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

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Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

In a Grove (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2011Players: 2-5 Players
Designer: Jun SasakiLength: 0-15 minutes
Artist: Ian Parovel, Jun SasakiAge: 12+
Publisher: Oink GamesComplexity: 1.0 / 5

A murder had been committed and three suspects were found at the crime scene, but only one of them was the murderer. One of the detectives was already at the scene and had spoken to two of the suspects when you arrived. The detective told you who they thought was the killer, but you wanted to be sure. You pulled the other two suspects to one side and interviewed each of them in turn. You quickly knew who had committed the murder and logged down your suspicion. The only thing that wasn’t clear, was why the crime scene was In a Grove by Oink Games.

Oink Games are famous for their wonderful games that are easy to learn and come in a small box, slightly bigger than a standard deck of playing cards, with bold and brightly coloured illustrations on the outside and really high-quality components inside. So, as you can see, I’m already influenced by the fact that In a Grove is an Oink game. Yet, my high expectations also mean that the bar is set high for this wonderfully quick hidden information and deduction game.

Actually, let’s start with the playing time. Depending on how many of you there are and how long everyone takes to come to a decision, the game can easily be played within 15 minutes. My wife and I always took less than 10 minutes to complete a full playthrough. The fact is, that there isn’t too much to think about when it comes to your turn. You can only choose one of two suspects – that’s it.

As I tried to allude to in the introduction, the theme of the game is the scene of a murder and three suspects have been found. It is up to you to identify who committed the crime, but you only have limited information. Depending on player count, there are between seven and nine so-called person tiles, seven of which are numbered 2 to 8 and then there are either no, one or two person tiles with a cross on them. Out of the person tiles, one is the victim and three are the suspects, all of which are randomly chosen and put face-down, so nobody knows which number persons there are. The remaining person tiles are distributed to the players, face-down again, and each player can look at their person tile as well as that of their right-hand neighbour. In a two-player game, instead of looking at the other player’s person, one of the tiles is played face-up in the middle for both players to see.

Either way, everyone now has two pieces of information to try and decide who the murderer is. Then every player takes a turn secretly looking at two of the suspect tiles, giving everyone two more pieces of information. That’s all there is to decide which suspect to accuse of killing the victim. It’s clearly not enough to go on, at least most of the time and players end up bluffing that they know the answer, when they definitely don’t.

In fact, bluffing is a huge part of this game. If you can convince other players to accuse the same suspect, but everyone is wrong, then whoever accused the innocent person last will get a hefty amount of negative points. That’s sometimes the only way of turning the game around if you’re behind and that’s what makes for memorable moments in the game. If you successfully bluffed and gave another player lots of negative points, bringing you back into the game, you feel very proud and clever.

In a Grove is the sort of game that you need to play with the same people several times, because it’s the metagame that develops from trying to work out if someone is bluffing or not, which makes this game so much fun. In itself, it’s a really simple, quick game, that can get a bit repetitive. However, if you have a group of people and everyone realizes that they can win by leading everyone else onto the wrong track, the game suddenly really shines.

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Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I bought and paid for the game myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Out of memory (Topic Discussion)

Remembering things is not my strong point. Not because I’m getting a bit older now – I’m only in my 40s – but because I’m relying more heavily on technology to remember things for me. Online spreadsheets tell me what game to review next or what article to write. Oh, speaking of which, articles are made in advance and then scheduled in, along with all the related social media messages. So, no, I don’t need to remember much. Maybe that’s why I don’t like memory elements in games, but let me use this article to go into this in a little more depth.

So, I used to play Memory a lot when I was little and then again with our daughter when she was little or my nieces when they were young. Yes, I’m talking about the quintessential game with a memory element. Memory, if you don’t know it, is a game where a certain number of tiles are face down and you have to turn over two tiles at a time and if they match, you get them, but if they don’t, then you have to turn them facedown again. The game ends when all pairs have been found and whoever has the most, wins. It’s really simple, but gets harder, the older you get.

The thing is, I actually like the memory element in Memory. Of course, because without that, there would be no game. That’s obvious. However, there is another type of memory element in some modern board games. It’s when information is revealed, either to everyone or to only a select few players, and then it’s hidden again. Anyone who has a good memory will excel at these games, but I find those games often frustrating and annoying.

After all, if the information was available at some point in the game, then it makes more sense to me to keep it available. You could, in theory, write down the information as you play and use your notepad as an extension to your brain. Of course, that would be frowned upon – or maybe even completely banned. However, it often seems stupid to me why someone who is younger, more awake and/or generally better at remembering things should have an advantage here. It usually doesn’t add anything to the game for me.

All right. You could say that Memory does exactly what I just described. All information is hidden to start with, then some information is revealed and then hidden again. However, there are no other mechanisms in this game. If you allowed everyone to write down what the revealed tiles were and what position they were in, then it would become a game of pure luck. Whoever got to turn over the most pairs would win. So, yes, in Memory you do want the memory element.

What I’m talking about, are games that have plenty of depth and interest and where the memory element really isn’t necessary, but ends up being a very important, if not the decisive part of gameplay. You basically can’t win unless you can remember the information that is revealed.

That’s why I like games, such as Oath, where there is hidden information and when a player is allowed to peek at that information, they don’t have to remember it. At any point during the game, after they have already peeked at that information, they can look at it again as often as they like. So, yes, you probably want to try and remember the information, so you don’t have to keep looking at it again, which would get very annoying for other players, but if you can’t remember it, there is nothing stopping you from refreshing your memory. To me, that’s the perfect approach for the game and I would have hated it if the rules had told players that they had to remember the information they gleaned.

On the other hand, I do love the memory element in Dune. No, not the deck builder, but the tokens-on-a-map, make-pacts-that-you-will-definitely-break, back-stabbing-is-expected version that Gale Force Nine re-printed last year – or maybe it was the year before – I can’t remember now. Anyway, in Dune it’s so much fun when you desperately try and remember the single most important piece of information you gained three turns earlier, but have now forgotten because the battle on Arrakis is heating up and you need to stop the Guild from winning, but the Bene Gesserit, who had previously pledged their absolute loyalty to the cause, decide to slow-blade you instead.

In Dune, the memory element is crucial, but there isn’t a huge amount to remember. It is manageable – or would be, if there wasn’t so much else going on all the time. That’s what you get when you try and invade a planet that’s constantly changing.

I also enjoy the memory element in trick-taking games. I suppose, it’s not so much of a memory element or at least it’s relatively limited and the more you play a trick-taking game, the easier it is. Some people say it’s about card counting, but that’s not actually true. It’s much more about knowing what important cards are in the other players’ hands and then keeping an eye on them, ticking them off your list, that is the list that you’ve got in your brain, as they get played. Chances are, there are maybe half a dozen important cards that you need to keep an eye on. In some games, there could be a dozen cards you need to worry about, but as tricks are played that list gets heavily reduced, because when certain cards are played, many other cards that were previously important, are suddenly of no interest any longer.

So, I suppose, I don’t really hate the memory element in games as such. It’s much more about how heavily it is rated in the game when compared to other mechanisms, or how much there is to remember overall. If the balance is right, then memory elements in games can actually create extra excitement and only one way to victory out of many different options. If the balance is wrong, then you end up not having any chance of winning, unless you have a photographic memory.

What do you think about memory elements in games? Is your memory good? Do you like it if information has to be remembered? What games do you think do it well and what games get it wrong? Please share your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what games you think use the memory element to great effect.

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Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Wingspan: Oceania Expansion (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2020Players: 1-5 Players
Designer: Elizabeth HargraveLength: 45-60 minutes
Artist: Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas, Beth SobelAge: 10+
Publisher: Stonemaier GamesComplexity: 2.0 / 5

Nectar, when you think about it, is just a sugar-rich liquid, produced by plants, to attract pollinators. Depending on where in the world you are, pollinators could be humble insects, such as the highly adored, busy bees, or they could be magnificent hummingbirds or other birds, or they could even be bats. A free source of sugar is highly prized, as it will give a quick boost of energy, and possibly a little sugar rush too, which make for a valuable reward for all pollinators. So it’s no surprise that this source of food is one of the new resources in the Wingspan: Oceania Expansion by Stonemaier Games.

If you’ve read my reviews of the base game or the European Expansion, you will know how much my wife and I enjoy playing Wingspan. So it was a no-brainer for us to also get the Oceania Expansion when it came out. We’ve played it quite a bit since, but because this expansion does change quite a few things which affect how you play Wingspan, it took me a lot longer to get to a point where I felt ready to review this latest expansion – which I don’t think will be the last expansion either.

In this review, I assume that you have played Wingspan and know it fairly well. I only want to focus on the differences between the base game and this expansion. I think, there will be enough to talk about as it is, without going over what the base game already has to offer on its own.

Let me pick up on the introduction of this article and talk about the new food type: nectar. Having a new food type in itself seems quite innocuous, but the nectar in the Oceania Expansion has wide-reaching consequences.

First of all, there is a new set of food dice, replacing the existing ones completely. The food symbols have been re-arranged to make room for nectar, represented by a pink flower, which will have an effect on what food you will be able to gain.

The player mats have also been replaced by new ones. That in itself doesn’t feel like a necessary result of introducing nectar as a new type of food, but it was an opportunity to change how the game is played a little. I’ll get onto that in a bit. There are also new end of round goals, but none of them actually feature any points for nectar. The reason is, that nectar already scores in another way, which is why a new score pad was also added for the Oceania Expansion.

So, let me explain a bit more about the role of nectar. It functions as a wildcard food source. You can use it instead of any other food type in the game – at least for the most part. Some of the birds from the Oceania Expansion require you to pay nectar specifically to be able to play them, but other than that nectar is a really flexible food resource – except for one thing. Nectar is discarded at the end of each round. Any nectar you still have in your personal supply is taken away from you when you score the end of round goal, so you do have to ensure you have just the right amount of nectar. Use it, or lose it, as they say.

However, the main reason why nectar is so good, despite it expiring so quickly, is that it can score you points at the end of the game. Whenever you use nectar to play a bird in one of the three zones of your tableau, or if you pay nectar to improve one of the actions, you put the nectar tokens on the left of that region. At the end of the game, for each zone, the person with the most nectar in that zone gets 5 points, the one with the second-most gets 2 points. So you could earn 15 points at the end of the game, which isn’t bad at all.

The expansion also comes with new eggs: yellow ones. They’re nice, but as with the European Expansion, the colour doesn’t have any function in the game and is purely visual. What does have a new function in the game are the 95 new bird cards, some of them have a new bird power, a yellow power, which happens at the end of the game. That’s a really interesting idea and does influence the last few rounds of the game, which previously were all about laying eggs.

In fact, it’s not just the yellow bird power that changes how the game plays. The new player mats’ egg laying action has changed. Whereas before you would be able to lay 2, 2, 3, 3, 4 and 4 eggs (from left to right) as you were improving that row, in the Oceania Expansion you are now only able to lay 1, 2, 2, 2, 3 and 4 eggs. So unless you’ve been able to play a lot of grassland birds in the game, your egg-laying ability is a lot lower in this expansion. That does really address what you do in the last few turns of the game. It’s no longer an obvious choice to lay eggs. More often than not, you’re focussing on getting more nectar out and playing birds with yellow, game-end powers.

There are more things in this expansion, of course. There are five new bonus cards and new Automa cards and rules.

The component quality of everything in the latest expansion is really outstanding. Stonemaier Games has set the bar high – not just for everyone else, but even more so for its own games. From the new cards to the new player mats and the nice dice, the quality of the expansion components is just as high as those from the original game.

Additionally, the new cards are really well colour-matched. Of course, if you’ve played Wingspan a lot, you will be able to tell the difference between the fresh, new cards from the expansion and the old, much-loved ones from the base game. However, colour-wise it’s very close and very hard to tell them apart.

It’s actually really nice to get a bit of a refresh from the Oceania Expansion. Our player mats started to look a little worn around the edges, so having a fresh set that replaces the original ones is a welcome bonus.

What is really nice is that you can mix the base game with all the expansions or just choose one or the other. You can be as flexible as you like. I suggest, you just play with the Oceania birds to start with, just so you can see how they work, but we felt we quickly wanted to mix in all the birds. It makes for a huge deck of bird cards, but it’s a lot of fun.

The next question is, if everything fits into the original box. The answer is: it depends. You can easily fit the base game and the Oceania Expansion in the box. Just bear in mind that you will remove the original dice, player mats and score pad. So, that’s fine.

The problem comes, when you want to have the base game, the European Expansion AND the Oceania Expansion in the same, original box. They won’t fit. In fact, the bird cards alone won’t all fit in the plastic card tray. You do have to be a bit “imaginative” here. However, you can fit the eggs and food tokens into the plastic boxes without any problem, which is nice.

Overall, I do think the Oceania Expansion is a worthwhile investment. If you love Wingspan and have played it a lot, then this expansion will shake things up and make you tweak your favourite strategy to accommodate the new food type and player mats. Where the European Expansion introduced some smaller tweaks, Oceania changes the game quite a bit – and for the better.

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I bought and paid for the game myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Wingspan Digital playthrough

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Superficial depth (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

I really enjoy writing reviews for board games, but maybe not quite as much as I enjoy writing my “Topic Discussion” articles, like this one. For some reason, reviews require a bit more effort from me and often don’t quite flow as easily as my thought pieces. In this article, I want to show you what goes into writing a board game review for the blog.

Let me start by saying that what I describe below is how I approach board game reviews. I’m not saying that this is how board game reviews should be made by everyone or that other people’s reviews are better or worse than mine. There are so many different ways of approaching reviews. A “first look” or “initial thoughts” piece has just as much use and value as an in-depth tear-down of a game’s design, mechanisms or a strategy guide. They will have different, but overlapping audiences and all try to help the reader (or viewer – or listener) understand what a game is like – and hopefully, help them decide if they want to play the game and maybe even buy it.

I never set out to review games on this blog. I’m more of a creative writer. So when I first started reviewing games, I found it quite hard. The reviews were more of a summary of the rules, some stats and maybe some quick thoughts about how I got on with the game. They were rather dry and mechanical. Sure, if you read any of them, you could probably work out if it’s the sort of game that you might like – or not. However, there was no real feeling in any of the reviews, no idea of the game experience.

Over time, that changed, of course. These days, I tend to talk about rules or mechanisms very little. The focus is on the experience. I like to mention components more often these days: chunky dice, thick cardboard, etc. I talk about laughter, frustration and other emotions. I talk about theme a lot more and the visual appeal overall, specifically illustrations and artwork. I tell you if a game makes your brain hurt or if it’s just a lot of quick, light fun. I even mention what others have told me about how they felt when playing the game.

Mechanisms still get mentioned, especially when they are new or add a twist to established mechanisms or if it’s a specific mechanism that directly evoked certain emotions or reactions in the players. I also still mention playing time, in particular if the game is very short or very long. Rules and rulebooks also still get talked about, but more from the angle of whether they’re easy to understand or unnecessarily complex.

I hope that people who read my reviews can identify with those emotions and decide if a game is for them. However, these days I expect readers of my reviews to also look at playthroughs or download a game’s rulebook, if they want to know more about how a game plays, from a mechanical perspective.

My reviews also often tend to be positive, which is because most of the games I have reviewed so far, are ones I bought myself. So, of course, if I bought a game, it’s because I was expecting to like it. That means, reviews have often been a foregone conclusion. However, that’s now changing. I’m being sent review copies a lot more nowadays, so it does now happen more often that my reviews aren’t as glowing as they may have been previously.

Saying that, even when I first started writing reviews, I would always point out if there was anything I didn’t like, didn’t understand or otherwise didn’t get on with – and that’s still true now. Irrespective of whether I paid for a game myself or was given a review copy, I will not hesitate to point anything out that’s not right – in my view. However, I will always say why it’s not right or why I don’t like something. It’s about constructive criticism and not about just dissing a game.

After all, just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean someone else won’t like it. I might not like games that take more than 3 hours to play, but for other people, it might be the perfect length. However, rather than me saying that I didn’t like a game, I will explain that I didn’t like it, because it was too long for me. The reader can then decide if the game is for them.

In fact, I do think that’s an important point about reviews in general. A negative review isn’t a bad thing. As long as you know why a reviewer didn’t like something, you can work out how you feel about it. Sure, if your taste in games is similar to mine, then a negative review from me might put you off buying a game. However, I doubt your taste in games will actually be exactly like mine. So when I don’t like a game, you might still like it.

Anyway, I digress a little.

The other thing I make sure of is that I play a game enough times before I review it. It will depend on the game what “enough times” means, of course. Some games you only need to play a couple of times, others you need to play half a dozen times. In fact, some games you probably should play dozens of times, but there comes a point when I have played it enough to be pretty confident that I can talk about my experience with the game and review it.

The thing is, in reality, I should probably not only play a game several times, but also at different player counts. After all, many games do feel quite different when played solo, with two players, three players or more. Yet, I really can’t do that, at least not usually. Some of my reviews do specifically say what player count I played the games at, others aren’t quite so specific, but it’s hard to play games several times per player count. In fact, it’s impossible to do so.

You have to bear in mind, that I do have a day job – and that’s probably a really important point. If I was writing board game reviews professionally, I would have a lot more time to try out games in as many ways as possible and be able to write much more detailed reviews. They would probably be more like analyses of the games, than reviews, but you get the idea.

So, I do as much as I can to give a game a fair chance. That also means that I will contact the publisher, designer or whoever the relevant person is if I have questions or if something doesn’t seem right. After all, it is possible to misunderstand or misinterpret rules or make mistakes as you play a game. I’m sure we’ve all been there. It happens, so I do the best I can to play games as they are intended before reviewing them. I’d hate to write a review that’s based on a rules mistake – and that’s irrespective of whether the review turns out to be positive or negative. If it’s based on mistakes, it’s not good.

I hope this article has given you a rough idea of how I approach reviewing games. It’s a little behind-the-scenes look, which might help you see the blog in a slightly different light.

If you have any questions about my approach to reviews or anything else that I do, please feel free to get in touch. You can leave a comment below or contact me directly. I’d love to hear from you.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Dokojong (Saturday Review) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2021Players: 2-5 Players
Designer: Jun Sasaki, Hayashi Shiina (椎名隼也)Length: 15-30 minutes
Artist: n/aAge: 10+
Publisher: Oink GamesComplexity: 1.0 / 5

Someone had hidden the Emperor’s dogs. It was an outrage. The Emperor suspected their cabinet ministers who strenuously, but politely, denied the accusations and pointed their fingers at their counterparts. They eagerly offered to help the Emperor find their dogs, but they clearly had something to hide. When the Emperor was convinced that they could hear a dog behind one of the closed doors leading to one of the ministers’ private chamber, that minister would quickly lead the Emperor away to another minister’s door. The Emperor got dizzy, but eventually, one of the dogs was found in the room of minister Dokojong by Oink Games.

Yes, I’m reviewing yet another game by Oink Games, but that’s no surprise. All of their games can be learned and played very quickly. They come in wonderfully small and vibrantly colourful boxes, so are perfect to have with you or place strategically around your house to encourage others to play them with you. Dokojong is no different.

The game is all about misdirection, bluffing, double-bluffing and generally trying to persuade the other players that their guess of where you have hidden one of the Emperor’s dogs is wrong – and not only that, but that in fact, a third player has actually hidden it somewhere completely different. Or maybe you’re double-bluffing and want the other players to think that.

It’s the sort of game that you start playing like a lot of hidden information games. You will randomly choose one of the five doors that the dog might be behind and then see what the next player does. If your guess was correct, chances are that they will deny it and point at a different door instead. So, over time, one of you will have gathered enough information to know for certain where the dog is and then use their turn to open that door – and yes, they will be right. The game starts out as being very much about eliminating options one by one, until there are only one or two left – at which point, you can take a confident, almost educated, guess.

Of course, over time, players will realise that they need to start bluffing. That’s when the metagame begins. It’ll probably take two or three games before it’s clear that always directing players to another door isn’t the right choice. Sometimes it’s better to accept the choice, even if that’s where you have hidden the dog. That’s the first level of bluffing – but it won’t take long until you need to double-bluff.

Dokojong quickly descends into a game of “you-know-that-I-know-that-you-know-that-I-know”. You have to keep changing when you bluff or say the truth, so that the other players can’t tell.

The thing is though, that Dokojong is really a lot more about probabilities. Players have the option to directly accuse the lead player and point at a specific door. If the dog is behind that door, the lead player gets one strike – and after three strikes, they’re out. Each accusation is a 1-in-5 chance, because there are five doors behind which the dog could be. So chances are, that your guess will be wrong.

Yet, making a wrong guess isn’t actually so bad. All you have to do, is reveal one of your five doors that doesn’t have the dog behind it – and if you survive a round with three revealed doors, you get a point – and once you gain two points, the game ends.

So, in reality, you get three guesses. Get all three wrong, you get a point. If you guess correctly with one of the three guesses, the leader gets a strike. Overall, the odds of simply guessing give you an almost 50:50 chance of winning the game. The odds are slightly against you, but not by a lot.

Unfortunately, those odds break the game for me. It’s really a lot easier to just guess, because chances are that you will win. There doesn’t seem to be any mechanism in the game to encourage players to not randomly guess, even though Dokojong really seems to be designed around the concept of people pointing at doors, slowly revealing more information, until they have limited the options enough to make a confident guess. That’s how the game should be played and that’s how I really enjoyed playing it.

As soon as you realise that you might as well just accuse the lead player directly, because your odds are probably just as good as when you try to slowly reveal the truth, the game stops being fun. I seriously hope I misunderstood the rules or missed something somewhere, because Dokojong could be the type of game that is great at parties and a great ice breaker. It’s sad and I feel really bad, but as it stands, I can’t recommend it to anyone and until someone tells me where I went wrong, the game will be put away.

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I bought and paid for the game myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Divisions (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

The board game community continues to work towards inclusivity, representation and diversity, which is great to see, but of course, the road is rocky and we’re still a long way away from where we should be. It is important we continue to call out bad behaviour and it is great to see more people and companies are prepared to own up to their mistakes and genuinely try to do better. In this article, I want to look at a related question: whether it is better to look for commonalities or differences, not just in respect to calling out bad behaviour, but also more in general.

My starting point is that as a community, people in the board game hobby should encourage inclusivity. Everyone should be welcome, as long as they themselves are welcoming people, of course. We don’t want anyone who is trying to exclude others. So looking at what it is that we, as a group, have in common, what it is that we all share, seems to me to be very important.

Obviously, we all love board games. Sure, we don’t all like the same kind of games, but we all like to play games. In fact, it’s not just board games. It’s also card games, role-playing games and all the other games that are part of our hobby. I’ve still not found a good term that includes them all, other than maybe the word “games” on its own, and that’s why my blog has “Tabletop Games” in its name. I wanted to invite everyone who likes to play a game on a table to come to the blog. However, I do know games aren’t always played on a table, but on the floor, in your hand or maybe on your lap – and I do want all types of games, and gamers, whatever that term means, to feel welcome on the blog.

Anyway, I digress a little. The point is, what we have in common is that we like to play games. That’s a great thing that we share.

Many of us also enjoy the social aspect of playing games. It’s about sharing an experience with others. However, there are many solo players who are part of our community and part of our hobby. They must not feel excluded, but what I’m trying to say is that some of us have things in common, even if we don’t have that in common with everyone in our community.

So, commonalities can be wide-reaching or they can be restricted to smaller groups. However, ultimately they are things we share and that tie us together and make us feel part of a group.

The flip-side to this is, that anything that we share as a smaller group implies something that’s different between us and another group. Those differences can be a positive thing though. I might love resource management games that last one to two hours while others prefer dexterity games that last 15 minutes to half an hour. That’s what makes us different, but that’s also what makes this hobby so interesting. There are many different preferences and tastes in our community and there are many games that will meet those preferences and fulfil those tastes.

That is, until there isn’t a game that actually meets our expectations. I’m not talking about a game that we thought was going to be amazing, but turned out to be really disappointing. I’m talking about not seeing enough diversity represented in our hobby. Most games are aimed at white cis men. So, the differences in our community, the things that make us all unique, are not represented enough in the games we see in our hobby.

Of course, things are getting better. We’ve seen an increase in women designers and black designers recently and I do hope the trend continues and we see more gay designers, trans designers and so on, so that our hobby becomes really diverse. I also hope we see a larger diversity in the roles such as illustrators, game developers and publishers. Yet, this article isn’t about diversity, so I won’t go into this topic much more at this point.

However, I do want to illustrate that there are many differences and these differences are a good thing and we need to encourage more of them, as long as we can also find commonality in wanting to see those differences in our hobby and in being welcome to anyone and everyone.

The problem comes when differences are purely pointed out to sew the seeds of hostility and division. We don’t want to discuss whether we should have white or black designers, male or female. It’s not one against the other – it’s about us, all of us. Whenever I see discourse about “us and them” I shudder. The discussion should be about “all of us”.

Oh, and before you say it: no, I’m not saying “all lives matter.” Black lives matter – trans rights matter – these are hugely important and must not be forgotten. Positive discrimination is important to help address imbalances and try and move away from a status quo that’s purely based on a terrible history. However, as I said, that’s not the topic of this article.

My point is that sometimes two groups are pitted against each other, when they’re actually not on opposing sides. We sometimes don’t see that we’re actually going in the same direction, even if we’re coming from different starting points. I do feel that we should put more effort into finding where we can work together towards a common goal, even if we’re on different journeys and are aiming for slightly different targets – but chances are, that we can go some of the way side-by-side and help each other.

As I said at the beginning, we need to continue to call out bad behaviour. We can no longer just tolerate everything. I know I have to do better and I’m still learning. I will most likely make mistakes along the way and probably sometimes still turn a blind eye when I shouldn’t. However, I hope that I am on a similar journey to many of you and that together we can make our community an amazing place where everyone feels welcome and where all of us, however different we are to each other, can find a common goal: enjoying board games.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Luzon Rails (Saturday Review) – Tabletop Games Blog

Release Date: 2021Players: 3-5 Players
Designer: Robin DavidLength: 45-90 minutes
Artist: Jessi CabasanAge: 12+
Publisher: self-publishedComplexity: 2.5 / 5

It was going to be a tough project. The local geography wasn’t on our side: mountains, pine forests, rainforests and a number of rivers. However, there were also many plains that would make it easier for us to lay tracks. Whichever way you looked at it, it was going to be a huge undertaking, but the economical benefits were even bigger and many investors were ready to put their money into the stocks of Luzon Rails by Robin David.

Here is the first cube rail game I’ve ever played and I was very excited to back this game on Kickstarter and couldn’t wait to play it when it finally arrived. I was previously put off by the image that rail games are difficult to learn and difficult to play, requiring a good head for maths. It’s an image that 18xx games tend to have, but Luzon Rails is different.

Its ruleset is really pretty straightforward, making it really easy to teach and learn. It’s the sort of game that you need to play a lot to master. You get started really quickly, but with every game you adjust your strategy a little, try out something else and learn something new. If you play the game with the same people and you all learn together, you will constantly have to adapt your strategy to what other players have learned. Very quickly, a sort of metagame develops and that’s something really interesting for me.

The maths side of things isn’t a huge issue either. There is some division and rounding, multiplying and adding, but it’s really minimal and shouldn’t require the use of a calculator. A lot of the game is more about your gut feeling and trying to predict what other players have planned or might want to do. It’s almost more about bluffing than calculating stock prices and dividends.

In Luzon Rails, players can invest their money in shares of five different railway companies. They will then be able to lay track for the railways that they own shares in to reach industrial cities, ports, developed towns and eventually Manila itself. As different locations are connected to a railway, that company’s share price will go up. Ever so often, every company pays out dividends to their shareholders, which is based on the stock value divided by the number of shares that have been bought.

That all makes sense, but this isn’t your standard Euro game. It’s not like you build track for your railway. You build track for a railway you own shares in, which is different, because other players may also own shares in the same railway as you and they may even own more shares than you. So by increasing the stock value of that company, you increase the value of everyone’s shares and if someone has more shares than you, they benefit more.

Also, you don’t spend your money to lay track, but the railway company’s money and the only money a railways company gets is from share issues, government grants and connecting to developed towns. So when you bid on shares, you’re encouraged to bid high, so that the railway company has plenty of money to build track, which will allow it to increase its share price.

The problem is, at the end of the game the player with the most cash in hand wins. It makes (virtually) no difference how many shares you own. They’re basically worthless at that stage, except that everyone will get one final dividend payout at the end of the game.

So, as you can probably tell, there are a lot of things you need to consider and balance. Investing a lot of money in shares means the companies have more potential to increase their stock value, which will give you a return on your investment. However, if someone else also owns shares in the same company, you may be less inclined to try and push up the stock value for them. In fact, it is possible to intentionally use up the limited amount of tracks available to each company to run a line into the middle of nowhere, therefore giving other players less opportunity to drive up the stock price for that railway.

Buying shares itself is also very interesting. It’s all done via auctions, with the active player setting the starting bid. Once you pass, you’re out of that auction. Auctions are multi-faceted. You might literally just want to jump onto the bandwagon and try and buy a share in the railway company that has the highest stock value. Of course, the current owner will not want you to do that, so they will try and outbid you. However, you might also pretend that you’re interested in that company, when in fact you’re just trying to get another player to pay a lot of money from their coffers, so they don’t have enough left to bid on the company that you put up for auction in your next turn, because that’s the company you really wanted to invest in. The problem is, the other player may realize that and leave you hanging with the highest bid, forcing you to pay over the odds.

So, there is a lot of player interaction in Luzon Rails, but it’s not just as simple as a take-that – it’s more of a take-that-but-that-hurts-me-too-but-hopefully-not-as-much-as-it-hurts-you. It’s about bluffing, looking at what everyone else is doing, a bit of table talk and generally all the sort of things I like in these kind of games.

The rest of the game is what is called an open, or perfect, information game. Everything is there in front of you. You can see how much money everyone has, how many shares, how much track each company has left, what actions are available and everything else. The only thing you can’t see are the action cards players have in their hands – which leads me to explaining about action cards.

Each round, seven action cards are dealt out openly and at the beginning of the game, as well as after every two rounds, players draw up to two action cards into their hand, which they keep secret. On your turn, you either play an action card from your hand or one of the seven open ones and then carry out the action. Actions are laying track, developing a town on the map, auctioning shares or giving a government grant to one of the railway companies. Depending on what cards are available, a round can play quite differently.

Yet, as most cards are visible, you can plan pretty well in advance. In fact, you could probably math out every turn and work out how much to bid for a share in every auction. However, the cards in hand and the fact that you can only see one round’s cards mean that you can’t plan fully. There is still an element of surprise, on top of the surprises that players themselves create when they decide to do something that nobody expected.

Luzon Rails is a very dynamic game. There is definitely an overall strategy that you follow, but tactics come into it a lot as well. There are even going to be alliances, where two of you try to bid up a third player during an auction, just so they don’t have enough money left to bid on the company both of you are interested in. Yet, alliances are going to be fleeting, because everyone wants to make the most money out of the shares they own.

The game is not set in any particular time period, but it merely uses the geography of Luzon as a way to present a challenge for players to lay track and increase the share prices of the rail companies they’re invested in. However, I would like to give you a brief historic overview, so you can put things into context. Luzon is an island that sits at the northern end of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean. It was occupied by many different countries over its lifetime1. China instituted a governor in the 1400s, some parts of the island became a Sultanate of Brunei soon after, the Spanish arrived in the 16th century and in World War II, the Americans stationed around 135,000 troops and 227 aircraft on the island, which was then captured by Japan in 1942. After the war, the Philippines gained independence and Luzon became the most developed island there under the rule of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Luzon has had a railway since 18922 and the network reached its height in the 1950s and 60s, with lines stretching from San Fernando in the north to Legazpi in the south, mostly running along the western edge of the island. At that time, the railway enjoyed thousands of travellers a day and had an expansive commuter rail network in and out of Manila. However, in the 1970s, the railway system started to fall into decline as investment was diverted into the island’s road network. In recent years, a renewed effort is made to reinstate some of the lines and reinvest in the railway network.

Luzon Rails feels like a great way to venture into the genre of “cube rail” games – and maybe it will take you, and me, into the realms of 18xx one day. However, do expect to play it a lot to really master it. It’s the sort of game that you will want to play again and again, because it will be different every time.


  1. Luzon’s history:
  2. Luzon’s railway history:

Useful Links

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I bought and paid for the game myself.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (